- By Native News Online Staff
The United States Mint released the Maria Tallchief quarter, which is the fifth coin of the 2023 American Women Quarters Program, on October 23, 2023.
Maria Tallchief, a citizen of the Osage Nation, was America’s first major prima ballerina. The Osage Tribal Council gave Maria Tallchief a name selected by her grandmother, “Wa-Xthe-Thoṉba,” which translates to “Two Standards.” It reflects Tallchief’s life in two worlds – as an accomplished dance professional and as a member of the Osage Nation, two identities that she proudly represented throughout her life.
The obverse (heads) depicts a portrait of George Washington originally composed and sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser to mark George Washington’s 200th birthday.
The reverse (tails) of this coin features a depiction of Maria Tallchief spotlit in balletic pose and her Osage name, which translates to “Two Standards,” written in Osage orthography. Additional inscriptions are “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM,” “QUARTER DOLLAR,” and “MARIA TALLCHIEF.”
“The fifth coin of the 2023 American Women Quarters™ Program honors the life and legacy of Maria Tallchief,” said Mint Director Ventris C. Gibson. “She broke barriers as a Native American ballet dancer, exhibiting strength and resilience both on and off the stage.”
Tallchief began dancing ballet at age three on the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma (one of five girls who did so). She went on to train in Los Angeles before moving to New York City at the age of 17 to join the School of American Ballet. It was there she first caught the attention of the dance world when she filled in for a lead ballerina during a performance and wowed the audience and critics alike.
In 1947, she became the first American ballerina to perform in the Paris Opera Ballet, for which she received rapturous reviews. Upon returning to New York, she was designated the lead ballerina for the newly formed New York City Ballet. She went on to serve as the artistic director of the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet and the founder and artistic director of the Chicago City Ballet.
Tallchief’s dancing was characterized by her signature precision and athleticism. Her energy on stage was described as “palpable” and “electric,” and her skill as “virtuosic.” Throughout her career, she broke barrier after barrier, dancing in television and movies, including the wildly popular “Ed Sullivan Show.” In 1962, she performed black swan pas de deux for President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B Johnson.
Tallchief is credited with elevating American ballet onto the world stage. Among her numerous honors, she s a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, a National Medal for the Arts Recipient and posthumously inductee into the National Native American Hall of Fame.
United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Artist Ben Sowards designed the image, and United States Mint Chief Engraver Joseph Menna sculpted the image.
“Although her artistry, precision, and technical skill made her one of the most renowned ballerinas of her time, it is Maria Tallchief’s courage, perseverance, and strength of character that I hope are evident in the design,” said Sowards. “Her legacy continues to inspire us to pursue our dreams.”
The Maria Tallchief quarter is manufactured at the Mint facilities at Philadelphia and Denver. Released on October 23, 2023, the quarter is in circulation now.
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