In 2005, then Governor Bob Wise called for the artists of West Virginia to submit designs for the West Virginia Commemorative Quarter. The United States Mint had recently created the program, which was turning out to be a huge success. Collecting the State Quarters had already become a pastime, with special boards into which the quarters can be displayed and a host of different premium limited editions being produced by the Mint.
Jamie Lester had already started to collect them himself. He and his daughter Hannah Lester, then a toddler, would find the quarters and press them into a map. Jamie had created the business Lester Sculpture in 1997, so he had already been working in the monument field for more than 7 years. When news of the Quarter Design Contest came to the artist, chances seemed slim. It didn’t seem possible to win this contest, and have his artwork displayed on coinage that would eventually circumscribe the globe.
It was important to Jamie that the design celebrate the natural beauty of the State of West Virginia. Growing up in the southern part of the state, Jamie was no stranger to the presence of the coal industry. He has relatives who had been killed or seriously injured in the mines, and the effect of coal had been both a boon and curse for his family. Jamie’s father had sustained mining injuries that almost crippled him, and was disabled for life. So even though coal had an almost Godlike status in West Virginia, Jamie had no interest in featuring the famous mineral in his design. He wanted to change the way West Virginia is seen by the world.
Jamie sketched many natural sites in the state that rival the beauty and majesty of any other locale in the world. Seneca Rocks and Blackwater Falls were drawn, as well as Cranberry Glades and Spruce Knob. The Monongahela National Forest provided many options, and is one of the most extraordinarily beautiful National Parks in the United States. But it was hard for Jamie to boil down these features to the coin. He struggled in his attempts.
When Jamie turned to the New River Gorge National Forest, he found focus. The incredible depth of the Gorge made it necessary to construct nearly the longest arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere, The New River Gorge Bridge. The more Jamie sketched it, the more it became a symbol for the people of West Virginia, conquering the rugged terrain in which they live through ingenuity, hard work and determination. The symmetry of the design made it ideal for the tiny canvas of the West Virginia Quarter, an eye catching focal point for the world to see.
After many sketches, Jamie submitted his design. Anonymously, his design was selected as one of five finalists from a field of over 1800 entries. His design was revealed, minted on the West Virginia Commemorative State Quarter, in 2005 at the West Virginia State Capitol to great fanfare. Out of the many works of art that Jamie Lester has created in his career, the West Virginia State Quarter remains as one of the most celebrated and loved, especially by the people of West Virginia.