Filipino designer behind Obama’s National Humanities Medal

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

July 31, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Humanities Medal is given out by the President of the United States to outstanding individuals, groups or institutions for their work that has deepened America’s understanding of the humanities.

The redesigned medal handed out by President Obama at the White House on Monday is a masterpiece designed by Filipino artist, painter and sculptor from Illinois — Paul Balan.

“It’s beautiful.” said National Endowment for Humanities acting chairman Carole M. Watson, who chose the winning design among dozens of candidates.

“This is the greatest achievement that happened to my art career,” said Balan.

President Obama honored 10 outstanding recipients of the 2013 National Humanities Medal in the East Room of the White House on Monday.

Balan’s winning medal design was unveiled in Washington, D.C. last November and was used for the first time during the 2013 National Humanities awarding ceremony last Monday.

During the ceremony, Obama said, “The moments you help create, moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow, they add texture to our lives. They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.”

Paete, Laguna native Balan was chosen to design the medal after he won the National Endowment for the Humanities’ public competition for a new medal design last year.

“I’m from Paete Laguna Philippines. From our town it’s natural to be an artist. Most of the people who live there are painters, sculptors, and poets, musicians,” Balan said.
Balan who works as a mail room delivery associate for his day job – bested 131 other designers who submitted their artworks after the competition was announced in October 2012.

Balan said, “Nung sabihin po sa akin na ako ang nanalo sa competition, hindi ko maipaliwanag yung pakiramdam ko.”

Minted in brass and polished in gold plate – Balan’s masterpiece depicts Lady Liberty amidst a fold of cloth, a lamp that symbolizes wisdom, and a sheaf of wheat for prosperity.

“On the right part of the design is a dove, representing peace and the messenger of hope. It’s such an inspiration from childhood,” Balan said.

“Sana po maging patuloy itong maging inspirasyon na kahit saan man po tayo makarating at saan man larangan, na ito po ay magbubunga ng tagumpay.”

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