BEATTY, Ore. — For Tom Rogers, it was the perfect combination.
Rogers is a proud veteran, having spent four years in the Navy.
For the past 10 years, he’s lived in Beatty, a Klamath County community that was once part of the Klamath Indian Reservation. It’s a community where the tribal influence persists.
“Since establishing a studio in Beatty, I have developed a greater understanding of Native American culture,” says Rogers. “As a veteran, I am especially pleased and proud to have my design selected to honor the Native American Code Talkers on the reverse side of the 2016 Native American $1 coin.”
Rogers is a longtime sculptor-designer who estimates he’s created more than 2,000 medals over the past 42 years. Earlier this year, his design for the reverse side of the 2016 Native American $1 was accepted.
The design shows two styles of helmets, with dates of 1917 and 1941, reflecting the years the U.S. entered World War I and World War II, and two eagle feathers that form a “V.”
This, he says, symbolizes victory, unity and “the enormous contribution” by Native American code talkers in both wars. “Code talker” refers to Indians, especially Navajo, Cherokee and Choctaw, who used their little-known languages for communicating messages.
Having his work featured on U.S. coins is nothing new for Rogers, 69. He worked 10 years at the U.S. Mint as a sculptor-engraver.
His designs were used for several military commemorative coins, along with the reverse side of the original Sacagawea $1 coin, a soaring bald eagle, along with three circulating quarters.
Since moving to Beatty, he’s continued on a freelance basis to create designs for circulating and commemorative coins from his home workshop.
In recent years he has done complete medal programs, which include designing the medal, sculpting models, ordering dies, encapsulating the struck medals, printing certificates of authenticity and delivering the finished pieces.
Rogers has developed a technique of carving directly into the plaster, which he says eliminates a time consuming stage used by most medallic sculptors. He works with plaster of Paris, not precious medals.
“By carving directly into the negative plaster, I have found I have greater control over the details and lessen the turnaround time,” he explains.
“I have deep-seated feelings about keeping the tradition in my work. All my designs and sculpting are done by hand, with pride.”
Rogers spent two years as a sketch artist-sculptor with the Medallic Art Company then worked as a freelance designer and sculptor until working for the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia from 1991 to 2001.
As a freelancer, he created 97 portraits for inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
He’s designed and sculpted Mint medals, Congressional medals, commemorative coins and circulating coins, including three state quarters and coins for the Lewis and Clark centennial.
Rogers has designed medals for the state of Alaska, banks and most recent American presidents and first ladies, including the official presidential inaugural medal for then-President elect Barack Obama.
“I’ve met a lot of real interesting characters,” he says, with special memories when he and his family attended ceremonies at the White House.
Upcoming next year is the Signature American Wildlife series of 10 medals, featuring a soaring bald eagle with Crater Lake in the background.
Rogers plans to continue his freelance work until next year.
“I’ll probably retire at that point,” he says, envisioning more time camping, hunting and rockhounding, a passion he and his wife, Margaret, who will celebrate their 48th anniversary next month, have shared with the Klamath Falls Rock and Arrowhead Club.
“It’s a pretty solitary job,” he says of sculpting and engraving in his home studio. “I work alone and put in a lot of hours.”
While he’s proud of all his works, Rogers is especially pleased with the coming 2016 $1 coin.
“After being selected for the original reverse of the Sacagawea dollar back in 2000 in Philadelphia,” Rogers says, “I would have never imagined that in Oregon, in 2016, one of my designs would again be selected for the reverse of the same coin.”