Mint giving undiscovered artists a chance to shine

mary mcpherson

It’s art you can keep in your pocket, and some Canadian artists are cashing in.

Ottawa illustrator Alisha Giroux says designing a coin for the Royal Canadian Mint raised her currency in the art world.

The distinct commemorative coin, based on a map of Canada, was issued to celebrate the nation’s 150th anniversary. Soon after it was launched, sales of her prints took off.

“Suddenly, I was getting an order an hour through my online store,” Giroux said. “I was just cleared out of all my work within about a week.” 

Alisha Giroux said she enjoyed a big boost in sales after her unique design was unveiled. (CBC)

The experience has also been a confidence boost, Giroux said.

“It’s been one of the most delightful experiences so far, to be quite honest,” she said. “It was flattering.”

Artist Mary McPherson created a depiction of the Battle of the Scheldt, keeping in mind the story of her uncle, who died in battle around that time. 1:17

No stone’s left unturned in the mint’s hunt for fresh talent, including students’ art studios and tattoo parlours.

royal canadian mint
The mint’s Jamie Desrochers recruited Quebec tattoo artist Caitlin Lindstrom-Milne to design this portrait of a coastal grizzly after discovering her work online. (Royal Canadian Mint)

The mint’s product manager, Jamie Desrochers, spends hours scouring social media looking for artists from every corner of the country. He’s on the hunt for illustrations that make a strong impression across a range of subjects from portraits to landscapes to wildlife.  

“I’ll put them in my back pocket,” Desrochers said. 

He said his emails to the artists often end up in their spam folder, so he’ll usually follow up with a phone call.

royal canadian mint
An Objibway soldier is featured on a coin commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Scheldt. (Royal Canadian Mint)

Ojibway artist Mary McPherson, 21, currently a student at the University of Ottawa, was first contacted by the mint two years ago when she was living at home in Thunder Bay, Ont., and posting her graphite sketches online.

“I was really surprised,” McPherson recalled. “I never pictured myself as having the opportunity to share my artwork through a coin.”

The young artist has now designed two coins for the mint. Her most recent design commemorates the 1944 Battle of the Scheldt, drawing inspiration from her great-uncle, Rifleman Rudolph McPherson, who fought and died in the war.

“I have a such a sense of gratitude and respect and profound appreciation for the gift Uncle Rudolph and others had given,” McPherson said.

mary mcpherson
A photo of Mary McPherson’s great-uncle, Rifleman Rudolph McPherson, top, who died fighting in the Second World War. (submitted by Mary McPerson)

McPherson said her great-uncle joined up despite having suffered the indignities of the residential school system as a child. When she told the mint his story, they suggested she somehow mark the role of Ojibway soldiers in her design.

McPherson said she was “overwhelmingly grateful” for the opportunity to create the tribute to her great-uncle and other brave soldiers like him.

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