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No Longer Pocket Change: Vermont Artist Transforms Coins Into Masterpieces

A new museum exhibit is spotlighting the work of sculptor Johnny Swing

A new exhibit at a landmark Vermont museum showcases the work of a renowned artist who calls New England Home.

“Life is full of surprises,” furniture maker and lighting designer Johnny Swing said during a recent visit necn paid to his studio in southern Vermont.

In his Windham County workspace, Swing transforms quarters, half dollars, and other coins into usable sculptures. He lines up coins in fabrication molds to work inside out and uses anywhere from 30-80,000 individual welds to fuse the coins together and join them seamlessly to a frame.

“I’m almost collaborating with the people who designed the coins, which is fun,” Swing said of his admiration of the artistry in U.S. coinage.

Clear across Vermont at the famous Shelburne Museum, a new exhibit titled “Johnny Swing: Design Sense” is open until early June.

Visitors can learn more about Swing’s philosophy and process, from his sketches, models, and prototypes—to his finished pieces.

“He sees the hidden potential in everyday objects,” observed Shelburne Museum curator Kory Rogers.

The exhibit spotlights giant lamps made from satellite dishes, chairs made from unusual materials including baby food jars, and rugs quilted from actual dollar bills.

“Everything that he makes is designed to A) surprise you, B) spark your curiosity, and C) if it’s a functioning piece of furniture, be comfortable,” Rogers explained.

Swing said the materials he uses—especially the coinage—seem to fascinate people and generate questions, like “how many coins are in that?” or “what is the face value of the coins in your furniture?”

“This piece has $1,400 in coins in it,” Swing said, referring to a piece he was working on in his studio when the television station visited. “Clearly—worth quite a bit more when it’s done.”

So how much do collectors and institutions worldwide pay for all these re-imagined coins? If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford a Johnny Swing original.

“I think it challenges people to think about what money is actually worth,” Swing said of his work involving coins and currency.

The value to Swing is in opening eyes: urging us to see the world in fresh ways—even things as simple as what jingles in our pockets.

“It’s nice to make things that people enjoy,” Swing told necn.

Click here for more information on visiting Shelburne Museum.

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