If you’re one of those whose desk drawers hold their fair share of “useless” pennies, you’re not alone – the much-maligned and unappreciated cent is an expensive-to-make, hard to spend relic of a bygone age. First minted in 1792, their actual copper content has dropped steadily from 100% to (since 1983) a mere 2.5%. No wonder no one respects them.
“Plenty of people hate pennies,” agrees artist Robert Wechsler. “Pennies are seen as useless money (and) many people consider them a nuisance. I look at a penny and see a beautiful sculptural token full of meaning and information about our society, and our history.” Bringing his vision of such a small and insignificant societal icon to wider appreciation requires making a larger than life statement, and in “The Caryatid” – a seven-foot tall, dodecahedral lattice column comprising 15,000 pennies – Wechsler just may have succeeded.
That’s not saying it was easy. Wechsler has had some experience in this unusual medium, having been commissioned previously by The New Yorker magazine to create sculptures from coins for a “Money” themed issue. The Caryatid was going to be much larger, however, and Wechsler ended up designing a custom die cutter specifically for the project.