Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
July 29, 2000 - Issue 15

Dayton Teens Vie to Design Sequoyah Coin
by Jan Galletta

Dayton, Tenn., eighth-graders Melanie Wooden and Petra Hall always have admired Sequoyah, who invented the Cherokee alphabet.

Now the students are hoping to turn his cachet into cash, since their design of the famous American Indian is one of three finalists for the Tennessee Commemorative Coin.

The teen-agers' artwork and essay on the 19th-century icon was among nearly 1,000 Tennessee submissions to the 50 State Quarters Contest, according to Elizabeth Phillips, governor's office spokeswoman.

"The U.S. Mint will review the three entries that were selected and choose the final coin," she said.

Ms. Phillips said U.S. Treasury artisans "may retool one of the recommended entries or do a compilation of them. The decision will be made sometime next year."

Other finalists are Shawn Stookey of Waverly, whose sketch conveys a musical-heritage theme, and Nashville's Rachel Summer and Wendy Alexander, who teamed with Paula Casey of Memphis in creating a nod to the state's pivotal role in ratifying the 19th Amendment.

The designing young women from Dayton were the only students whose work was selected for consideration. The Tennessee quarter is scheduled to be the first of the commemorative coins issued in 2002.

Miss Wooden and Miss Hall took part in the competition as the result of a history class assignment at Dayton City School.

"They gave us a sheet of paper with a circle on it and we had to do the design in the circle. We also had to do a paper that told why we chose that subject," Melanie said.

"I did most of the drawing and Petra did most of the writing."

Dividing the duty was no chance decision: An artist since kindergarten, Kansas transplant Melanie, 13, won a citywide Earth Day contest for Wichita fifth-graders for her depiction of forest animals in a dump. She is leaning toward architecture or animation as a career.

Petra's writing knack and fondness for history made her a natural to pen the literary portion.

"I like to get knowledge to people that they may not have, and I didn't think many people would pick Sequoyah," she said. "But I think he is one of the most important people in Tennessee history and he did a lot for the nation besides the Cherokee alphabet. He had a school, he fought in the war and he made ammunition for it."

Petra, 14, also noted that California's Sequoyah National Park was named for Sequoyah, who was born near the present-day town of Vonore, Tenn.

"I was shocked at how much research the two of them did," said Nela Swiney, an art teacher at Dayton City School who spearheaded the contest. "I thought we had a good shot, but it's phenomenal to make the top three."

Mrs. Swiney said the assignment illustrates the school's approach to learning.

"We try to incorporate art in lessons -- to boost students' skills instead of just getting them to do a pretty picture,' Mrs. Swiney said.

'I encouraged them to really think about the concept and to choose what they think best represents our state. I told them, 'If somebody goes to Europe, he could take your coin with him and use it to buy something over there. It's not like your coin is just going to stay in your pocket."'

The Genius of Sequoyah




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