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Coin art: Traveling artisans fashion unique jewelry

March 09, 2001|By ANTHONY LONGORIA, Staff Writer

IMPERIAL — Adorning one's body with carefully carved currency may soon be the next trend in popular jewelry, at least that's what coin carvers David Walker and David Hill are hoping.

Traveling around the country to sell their jewelry, Walker and Hill are at the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta's Plaza de la Cultura this week to sell their coin art.

Using everything from nickels and dimes to international currency, Walker and Hill fashion their unique jewelry by carving out the intricate designs found on coins and turning them into charms, earrings, bolo ties, and even watch faces.

To cut the coins, the men drill holes in key parts of the coin usually along the edges of a coin's design. Then, a small handsaw is used to carefully carve along the outlines of the designs.

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"It's really interesting when you cut the coin, (their designs) become three-dimensional," said Walker, a retired magician from Kansas City, Mo., who now travels year-round selling his coin art.

Coins can take anywhere from 20 minutes to complete, to hours if a coin's lettering is carved as well.

Walker's son, Chip, developed the technique the men use.

"My son came up with the idea 20 years ago," recalled Walker. "He came to me and he said, ‘I think there are nicer designs in coins than in commercial jewelry.'"

While looking for a way of extracting the design from the coins, the young Walker went to a jewelry supply dealer in hopes of finding a tool for cutting coins.

A brief consultation with a jeweler led to the purchase of a $16 hand saw, and the technique was born.

Walker rediscovered his son's technique six years ago after he found some of his son's old coins in a storage shed.

The retired Walker asked his son — who had long since given up the hobby — to teach him the technique. After honing his skills, he soon had engagements at jewelry and craft shows in the Lake Tahoe area.

Walker met Hill when the two were vendors at Yuma's Park and Swap. After teaching the technique to Hill, the two became partners and now travel the country, finding more coins to use and making more unique jewelry along the way.

For those worried about the legality of the art, Walker said it's legal to mutilate a coin but illegal to try to use one as currency, meaning once drilled into, all coins lose their monetary value.

Most of the coins the men use come from coin dealers throughout the United States.

Both men said the countless designs found on coins help them come up with new ideas and keep their jewelry popular.

"Dolphins, birds, fish, animals, ships, almost every subject matter can be found on a coin," Walker said.

He said Mexican coin carvings are popular in the Southwest, as are dolphin carvings from Icelandic coins.

Being one of 30 people in the nation making a living as coin carvers, Walker said he enjoys his work, especially the feeling he gets when "someone buys the work and likes it."

"In all of my life, since I was 19, I have never worked at anything that I didn't like," Walker said.

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