Many BYU professors aren’t just professors; they’re also successful professionals in their respective fields. However, few double as government contractors — but illustration professor Justin Kunz has devoted much of his time to designing America’s coins and medals for more than a decade.
Kunz is a member of an elite group of artists that comprise the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program (AIP). Kunz has designed various coins and medals for the U.S. Mint, with one of his recent designs winning the Coin of the Year in the category of Best Gold Coin Award at the 2019 World Money Fair in Berlin.
“I was thrilled to see this important coin recognized on an international stage, and thankful all over again to have been part of the process of creating it,” said Kunz.
Kunz’s involvement with the U.S. Mint began in 2004. After seeing an advertisement on local TV calling for artists, Kunz sent in a portfolio and a sample coin design. Before long he was in Philadelphia learning the ins and outs of coin, or numismatic, design.
Kunz was one of just 18 professionals selected for the program along with six student artists. Kunz said when he was selected for the program he felt like Charlie from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”; his acceptance into the program felt like a “golden ticket.”
Other than a hiatus while he was working on an MFA in painting, Kunz has worked with the U.S. Mint ever since his first trip to Philadelphia in 2004.
“I have a good working relationship with the Mint,” said Kunz. “They are smart, hard-working people who really care about our country and the artistic quality of our coins and medals. They have always treated me fairly and have helped me grow and improve as an artist.”
Kunz’s love for drawing and design is at the core of why he continues to collaborate with the Mint over the years. For him it is a way to apply his skills and interests into a project of national importance.
“As part of the process for developing visual ideas, I get to study the events and symbols that are important to the history of our country and compete with other talented designers to help tell those stories,” said Kunz. “It’s really satisfying to hold the finished coin or medal in my hands, rotate it under the light and feel the texture of the relief work on it.”
From collaborating with fellow artists to interacting with coin collectors, Kunz has had a lot of special moments during his decade and a half working with the Mint, but he says one of his favorites was the unveiling of the 2017 American Liberty 225th Anniversary Gold Coin. For a few days, the story became a trending topic in all the major media.
“I was in Washington D.C. while that was unfolding, just hiding out in my favorite place in the city,” said Kunz. “It was pretty surreal to think a little gold coin could attract so much national attention. It’s been really rewarding to know my work is out there connecting with people.”
Kunz’s road to international success has been rooted in the way he approaches his work and life in general. He advises aspiring artists to “Become better than you currently are — but please take it one day at a time. Try to see every situation and assignment as an opportunity to learn and prepare. Not just for a rewarding career, which you can have, but also for a deeply fulfilling life.”
For more information about Kunz’s work, visit his page on the U.S. Mint website.