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Don and Era Farnsworth


B. 1952 and 1950

Throughout the 1970s, Don Farnsworth studied printmaking and papermaking, and he earned a Master of Arts from U.C. Berkeley in 1977. Shortly after graduating, Don met Era Hamaji, who shared his passion for the arts, and they married in 1979. The newlyweds set off for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Africa, where Don helped design and build a paper mill, and Era worked with artisans, where she taught and learned new crafts. These experiences would greatly influence their careers and work in Cultural Currency

To the Farnsworths, currency provides rich, built-in content as a source of inspiration. The pair had noticed that the United States has traditionally honored statesmen on its bills and coins; however, other nations celebrate poets, writers, artists, humanitarians, scientists, inventors, and even flora and fauna (as depicted in the example below) on their currency. In this vein, they were inspired to redesign the U.S.’s most famous and widely circulated banknote, the $1 bill, with color, imagery, and additional text to question how this act could have a long-lasting impact on the US’s values and reputation worldwide. By simply placing artists on the dollar bill, the Farnsworth have imagined a society that values the arts over politics.

Looking closely at their piece, 30 Altered Dollar Bills, several bills touch on the heavy influence of American capitalism and the fine line between greed and desperation. Take, for example, their banknotes featuring iconic corporate logos, like Coca-Cola, or their bills that resemble scratch-off lottery tickets. In other instances, some of the Farnsworths’ currency artwork depicts George Washington nearly “underwater” or melting – an apparent reference to the U.S’s debit crisis shared by all citizens, creating a collective experience among viewers. Their piece, Melting Dollar, is on handmade linen paper in the style of the 16th century, drawing on Don’s papermaking skills developed early in his career.

Working with the one-dollar bill provided fascinating challenges to the artists. To introduce new text into the bill’s design, fonts had to be painstakingly recreated over nearly a year. To add new graphic elements, they had to paint a ground that precisely matched the background color of the bill that would be opaque enough to cover the rich, deep black lines of the original engraving while also accepting a layer of meticulously registered water-based inkjet printing. Eventually, the Farnsworths arrived at a concoction containing titanium dioxide, yellow ochre and other pigments, gum, and a digital medium, which binds and brings out the colors in the overprinted ink. For bills bearing a layer of gold and silver leaf, they printed acrylic ink in the target areas and then applied the leaf by hand directly to the wet acrylic. Using sequential bills made registration slightly easier, and retaining the Federal Reserve’s serial numbers helped them to keep track of each bill as the project grew to include dozens of proofs and variations. 

In 1980 the Farnsworths returned to California and where they founded Magnolia Editions, an Oakland-based art studio known for its innovative printing techniques and numerous collaborative projects with artists. They have also published several editioned Jacquard tapestries by artists including Chuck Close, Bruce ConnerMasami TeraokaHung LiuKiki Smith, and many others.


Myrtle Beach’s Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum strives to be one of the finest visual arts museums in the Carolinas. With 11 galleries that change throughout the year, Myrtle Beach’s only art museum offers exhibitions featuring paintings, textiles, sculpture, photography, video, ceramics, assemblage, collage and more. A visit to the Art Museum’s exhibitions can be enhanced by its lively programming, including artist receptions, tours, lectures, workshops and classes for both adults and children.