Ralph Butler is an illustrator and an artist. He practices his trade in the town of Bayonet Point, a dot on the map north of New Port Richey in Pasco County.
When the 59-year-old Butler awoke March 6, his biggest concern was the funeral of his father. But, a short time later, Gov. Jeb Bush announced that Butler’s design was chosen by Florida citizens to appear on the back of a new quarter in 2004.
Overnight, Butler was the center of a media frenzy. He did interview after interview for various publications. He appeared on television, and was heard on the radio.
Butler said a week after his new-found fame that things are pretty much back to normal.
“(March 6 and 7) were pretty crazy,” Butler said. “Saturday (March 8), I was back to work … back to normal, paying the mortgage.”
Butler said, because of his father’s funeral, he did not hear the news until about 9 p.m. on March 6. He described his emotions as “absolute jubilation.”
Butler’s design was chosen from about 1,500 original applicants. Titled “Gateway to Discovery,” it shows a Spanish galleon at full sail near a sandy, palm tree-covered beach. Above the galleon, a space shuttle soars upward toward the stars.
Butler said his design was an attempt to focus on both Florida’s present and past.
“I was trying to create some kind of a narrative design that would encompass all of Florida,” Butler said. “I didn’t want to focus on just one part of Florida.”
Butler said he chose the galleon because Spanish contact points occurred throughout the state and were the starting point for European explorations throughout what is now the United States. He said he chose the space shuttle because Floridians find it a source of pride.
“I wanted the galleon and the space shuttle to be a parenthesis around the history of Florida,” Butler said.
Butler said he feels the design represents events that are not only important to the state, but to the history of the entire country.
Butler’s design was one of five finalists for which the public could vote at the government’s Web site, myflorida.com. It won with 123,515 votes. Finishing second with 104,838 votes was an image of the Castillo de San Marcos, the more than 300-year-old Spanish fort that guards St. Augustine, the United States’ oldest city.
The other three finalists included a picture of a bird in a swamp representing the Everglades, an image of the space shuttle above the outline of the state and an image of a sailfish representing Florida as the “Fishing Capital of the World.” A total of 424,346 votes were cast on the quarter design.
Butler, who illustrates magazine and book covers, said in addition to his jubilation, he felt a second emotion: relief.
“Every artist wants to leave something behind. Most of what I do is fairly disposable,” Butler said. “When I won that, a couple of days later it felt like a relief because I have something that I can leave behind. That feels kind of nice.”
Butler’s quarter, which should be in pockets nationwide in a little more than a year, is the 27th in the U.S. mint’s 50 states program. The quarters are printed in chronological order, based on when states became a part of the union. Florida became a state in 1845.
Five quarters are minted each year during the 10-year duration of the program. This year marks the program’s midway point.