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The Planet

New California Quarter Celebrates Muir, Yosemite

Angeles Chapter member develops winning design
- by Dominique Dibbell
editor, Southern Sierran

John Muir is well known to Sierra Club members, and soon he will be known to anyone who needs to feed the parking meter. The famed conservationist, writer, and founder of the Sierra Club is featured on the California commemorative quarter, released by the U.S. Mint on January 31.

California Quarter
Sierra Club Founder Drawn and Quartered: Angeles Chapter member and California quarter designer Garrett Burke, with wife Michelle, who encouraged Burke to enter the design competition, at the ceremony in Sacremento last March unveiling the winning design.

Last spring, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled the winning design - which also features Half Dome in Yosemite and the California condor - after a long process that began with a call to the general public for submissions.

Angeles Chapter member Garrett Burke, just happened to hear that call.

He was at a coin show with his wife, Michelle, a longtime coin collector. She saw the brochure put out by the state librarian's office calling for designs and showed it to her husband, a graphic designer. "You should do this," she said. Burke was not so sure. "I had a typical response," he says. "'I don't have any ideas, I don't have the time, and they'll never pick mine.'"

But his wife was insistent. Burke credits her "gentle arm twisting" for the design's creation. "Instead of, ‘Garrett, take out the trash,' it was, ‘Garrett, how are those designs coming?'"

Burke began to research possible subjects. He knew he wanted to feature a citizen who had contributed to the state. He came up with a long list of many worthy people, but John Muir's name kept coming to the top.

Burke was struck by the eloquence of Muir "at a time when America really needed a voice like that."

The deeper he researched, the deeper his commitment became to the project. "It took hold of me," he says. With no expectation of being a finalist, Burke devoted early mornings, evenings, and weekends to the designs, all the while working at a demanding job at an ad agency.

His wife and 8-year-old daughter, Katie, joined in the effort. "They were the peanut gallery," says Burke. "I'd lay all the designs on the floor and they'd give me the thumbs up, thumbs down."

Along with a Muir design, Burke was developing a tribute to Yosemite. His family told him that the Yosemite design needed a human touch. But putting a hiker or backpacker in the scene spoiled the element of timelessness.

Late one night as Burke pored over his many designs laid out on his computer screen, the idea struck: Why not put John Muir in the Yosemite design? It was a perfect fit and once he arrived at the idea, he knew it was right. He worked and reworked the design, and on the last day it could be postmarked he and his wife ran to the post office to send it off.

The excitement began to build when the Muir design was chosen by a selection committee as one of 20 finalists out of 8,000 submissions. The image was put up on the Internet for a straw poll of the public. At this point, Burke started to lobby for his design. He had banners printed up urging the state to "Mint Muir," and took them to Yosemite and area schools named for Muir. He also contacted Harold Wood, chair of the Sierra Club's John Muir Education Committee and creator of the John Muir Exhibit on the Sierra Club Web site (

Wood went into action. His committee wrote letters to then-Governor Davis and state librarian Kevin Starr, stressing the educational and tourism value of a Muir/Yosemite coin. He urged Club members and Muir enthusiasts to do the same, and also to cast their vote in the online poll. "The John Muir coin was never at the top of the list [in polling]," says Wood. "However, it always seemed to come in with a real strong showing across the board. It had a unifying presence."

In fact, the Muir coin came in sixth in the poll. But Starr, impressed by the letters he received, convinced Davis to include it in the final five sent to the U.S. Mint. The Mint narrowed it down to two, the Muir design being one of them.

By now Schwarzenegger was governor; on his third day in office, Starr brought the quarter designs to his attention, stressing the importance of the decision. "Schwarzenegger," says Burke, "picked up the ball and carried it magnificently to the finish." His wife Maria Shriver and children also contributed to the final decision.

The design has been altered somewhat from Burke's original. Yosemite Valley was switched out for Half Dome - a more recognizable image - a California condor was added, and the Muir figure was enlarged. Burke thinks the changes improve the design. "I couldn't have done it better myself," he says.

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