Robin Salmon is following in some pretty big footsteps.
Although Salmon, the vice president of collections and curator of sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens, represents a different constituency, she was appointed to the U.S. Mint’s Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee just after NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar resigned from the 11-member body.
In October, Salmon officially replaced Heidi Wastweet as the committee member specially qualified in medallic art and sculpture.
Salmon, who has been at Brookgreen Gardens since 1975, said she was encouraged to apply to the panel, which advises the U.S. Treasury secretary on the selection of themes and design proposals for circulating coinage, bullion coinage, congressional gold medals and other medals produced by the U.S. Mint. The committee also advises the secretary on the events, people or places to be commemorated.
“I was asked to apply, encouraged to apply, by Heidi Wastweet, who had served two consecutive terms on the panel,” Salmon said. Wastweet two years ago designed the Brookgreen Medal, given annually since 1973 as a perk to members of Brookgreen Gardens.
Salmon’s path to membership on the committee was not easy. At first, she said, she wasn’t sure she had the time. Then, when she did apply, she was rejected twice. “I told my son that the third time was the charm,” she said with a laugh.
Salmon is one of two curators on the committee. The other is Robert Hoge, curator emeritus at the American Numismatic Society in New York City, where he served as curator of North American coins and currency from 2001 to 2013.
Other members include one specially qualified in American history; one specially qualified in numismatics; three individuals representing the interests of the general public; and four individuals recommended by leaders of Congress.
CCAC members undergo a thorough background check, Salmon said. The committee members are considered special government employees. While they serve without pay, their transportation costs and other expenses are covered for five scheduled meetings a year, although Salmon said there could be more.
“It’s an appointment,” she said. “Members are sworn in.”
Salmon said that the CCAC has advised on medals and on coins. For example, she said, the state quarters have all gone through the committee.
“The committee worked on the design, chose an artist and then the proposal is made to the Mint. It’s the secretary of the treasury who eventually, finally approves the project. We’re just part of the process,” she said.
She does know sculptors at the Mint in the nation’s capital as well as the Philadelphia Mint. “American figurative sculpture is a small world,” she said, noting that some of those sculptors have come to Brookgreen.
For Salmon, the committee and her work at Brookgreen are learning experiences. “I’m one of those lifelong learners,” she said. She has academic degrees in history and art history from the University of South Carolina, and as earned a "Ph.D. in Brookgreen" during her 43 years with the organization.
“I got a job because I could type,” she said. And she worked in the office in some form until 1981, when she was assigned to research the history of the property.
“I consider this committee an extension of my job in a way,” she said. “It’s a huge responsibility; contributing to the history of America in a way. And a coin is essentially a sculpture. We start with a paper, a design, but a sculpture has to create the die.”
Salmon has written five books about sculpture and the gardens. Plus, she's been a co-author on seven other books, including an upcoming title about Anna Hyatt Huntington and Brookgreen Gardens. She's received multiple honors and awards, including the Culture Award, started by former Brookgreen President Bob Jewell and presented to a manager and non-manager. Brookgreen employees choose the nominees. She also received the 2007 Sculpture House Award of the National Sculpture Society and, in 2018, the Gari Melchers Memorial Medal of The Artists' Fellowship Inc. for her contributions to American sculpture and sculptors over a 40-year period.