Many know Mary Seacole for her truly selfless acts and dedication to helping others. From her early years helping those in need in the Caribbean to her time providing aid to soldiers on the front line during the Crimean War, Seacole’s caring nature and willingness to nurse the sick and wounded has made her an iconic figure within British Black history.
Sadly, following her death in 1881, Mary Seacole’s contributions were largely forgotten, and her name faded into relative obscurity for the majority of the twentieth century. Fortunately, that changed in the 1980s and, now Seacole has taken her rightful place in British history, many today consider her an inspiration.
Featuring a reverse design created by Sandra Deiana, the Mary Seacole 2023 UK £5 Coin is a numismatic tribute to this remarkable woman and simultaneously serves as an introduction to those unfamiliar with her work and impressive life story.
No stranger to coin design, Sandra Deiana has created designs for a variety of mints around the world and produced the design inspired by Gustav Klimt’s classic 1905 painting The Three Ages of Woman for The Royal Mint’s Britannia 2022 UK Coin. We caught up with the artist to get an inside look at the design process and find out what went into the reverse design for the Mary Seacole coin.
What excited you most about working on this project?
“The idea of being able to pay homage to a woman like Mary Seacole immediately excited me. I knew her name, but I had no idea what this amazing woman had done in the past. I only found out by reading about her and I was fascinated by her story.
“During my research, I read about how she was largely forgotten for a hundred years after her death, and this immediately gave me a very good reason to make everyone remember her again. Coins are a great way to do that as, although they are small, coins are incredibly powerful, as they are long-lasting and easily accessible.”
How did you approach the initial design?
“Before I start designing, I always conduct careful research and do a lot of reading on the subject matter. In my creative process, this step is almost always longer than the drawing itself. Reading up on the individuals is something I devote a lot of time to; I want to try to identify with them as much as possible, discover their characteristics, and find out more about their personality. It’s a bit like going back in time and meeting them in person.”
Was there anything you knew that you wanted to include from the beginning?
“Mary Seacole studied and experimented a lot with traditional Jamaican medicine, which she learned from her mother. During my research, it struck me that she used mustard seeds to treat cholera patients. Some of my early drafts included objects that were used to mix herbs and make ointments, such as a mortar and a small glass bottle.”
What were the main challenges you found during the design process?
“It’s never easy designing a coin as things get a little more complicated when working with such a small canvas. It’s my job to make sure that all the spaces are balanced, and that all the elements that make up the design are large enough to be read in the actual size of the coin once it’s made.”
What was the main difference between designing this coin and designing the Britannia coin?
“With the Britannia 2022 design, I had to represent more of a concept – an abstract national identity personified through three women. For Mary Seacole, I had to deal directly with a person who actually existed, so I focused on her portrait. For me, the presentation is fundamental. It captures the personality and everything that person is and has been. There is nothing else in the composition that really matters as much as her eyes, so her eyes must convey everything.
What are your thoughts on the finished product/design?
“Representing Mary Seacole has given me the opportunity to pay homage to a woman who has done so much for others, and that is an incredible honour for me. I feel a great responsibility with this design and, like all my previous designs, I hope it will be appreciated by the public. Above all, I hope it will help to raise awareness of Mary Seacole and the incredible things she did in her life as an exceptional woman, nurse and entrepreneur.”