The Whole of the Moon
Like a scene from the movie Night at the Museum, the V+A is transformed as darkness falls. A rainbow of lights sends the angels in the architecture spinning in infinity to the melody of a violin quartet. Mere mortals fill the echoing marble halls below, indulging in stilton cheese on lotus oat crisps; scallops on a bed of seashells; vermicelli coated prawn sticks dipped in wasabi mayo; and Earl Grey macaroons. Psychedelic cocktails reflect the lights.
It’s the launch of the 2014 Chinese Lunar Year of the Horse coin by Royal Mint. A trained vet turned artist, Wuon-Gean Ho explains, “I have this dual heritage. I feel incredibly lucky! I grew up in Chinese culture but trawled antique shops and art galleries around Oxford where I lived.” Experienced in a range of media, Wuon-Gean won the commission to design the UK’s first legal lunar coin. “I made my first print when I was 12 years old. It was a linocut of a cat!”
“As a vet you have to observe animals closely,” she says. “I also drew horses at stables in Hackney. My dad is a vet. It is possible to get considerable detail on a coin design. Just think of the Queen’s head on the obverse side of the coin which even shows her earrings! I wanted the strong image of the horse in the foreground with the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire subtly placed behind.” Wuon-Gean holds a BA in History of Art from Cambridge. Her reverse coin design is the first of 12 zodiac animals to be featured in the Royal Mint’s Shēngxiào Collection. Prices range from £82.50 for the silver one ounce coin up to £1,950 for the gold one ounce.
Shane Bissett, Royal Mint’s Director of Commemorative Coin, emphasises the coin’s importance: “This is in effect a piece of public art with a likely circulation of 40 years. The Royal Mint’s Chinese Lunar coins lend a unique British angle to an ancient tradition. At Lunar New Year gifts and tokens are often exchanged, particularly money in red envelopes. This symbolises good wishes for the recipient’s health, wealth and prosperity.” Shane was previously responsible for growing Waterford Crystal’s UK market share: “I brought this experience of working with another heritage brand to Royal Mint.”
Wuon-Gean doesn’t think the Chinese community has that high a profile in London. “It’s best known for food,” she observes. It should, in her case, also be known for art. Capturing equine movement in millimetres is no mean feat. As for coins in envelopes, all are welcome at Lavender’s Blue. Usual address.