Joshua James Zins didn't think too much of an email delivered to his school account, figuring it was something school related. To his surprise, it was an email telling him he had won the Runestone Museum's penny press design competition.
"I thought it would be fun to try the contest. If I win, I win. If not, that's OK," he said.
The incoming junior at Alexandria Area High School traveled to Pearl Harbor earlier this year and became interested in the Navy. That inspired him to draw a Viking merchant ship design to submit for the contest.
Now, his design lives inside a pressed penny machine - along with the other three winning designs, ready to be stamped onto shining copper souvenirs.
A brief ceremony was held in the museum lobby on Thursday, July 11 to celebrate the winners of the competition. While the press has been in operation at the museum since early June, this was the official unveiling.
Baskets of pennies and quarters were available to use in the machine, and refreshments were served after a brief introduction speech by the museum's executive director, Amanda Seim.
The competition started accepting applications last fall and winners were selected in late winter. Applicants had to create a hand drawing or computer design of one or more of four symbols: the Kensington Runestone; Big Ole; a Viking merchant ship; and Fort Alexandria. More than 200 submissions were received from area students in grades K-12.
The four winners are:
• Shayna Steidl of Carlos, Kensington RuneStone design.
• Olivia Maday from Alexandria, Big Ole design.
• Joshua James Zins from Nelson, Viking merchant ship design.
• Alyssa Revering from Miltona, Fort Alexandria design.
The museum has Alexandria's only penny press, and it was manufactured in Little Canada, Minnesota, by the Penny Press Machine Company. Jack Driscoll of the Driscoll Foundation had the idea of bringing the press to town, and his foundation provided money to make and promote the machine.
"It gives back. It's not a one-way donation," he said. "It's not going to break down any time soon."
Driscoll said a penny press allowed the chance for the art competition, which he suggested to Seim.
"We wanted to get the community involved. We're always looking for that," Seim said. She said the penny press can be something these student winners will come back to, years from now, and show their own children.
Seim was impressed by the submissions, especially the ones from the younger children. "It shows the talent of the area and that they're excited about it," she said.
"The kids are really proud of the artwork they did, and they should be," Driscoll said.
Steidl, an incoming tenth grader from AAHS, took a graphic design class last year called Digital Foundations that required her to create all four designs for an assignment, and to submit at least one to the contest. She was the most comfortable with the Runestone design and put the most effort into it. Still, she was surprised to be selected as one of the winners, and is honored to be able to have an impact on residents and tourists alike.
"Someone from Colorado could just have this image - I made that," she said.
Zins echoed these words and said he enjoys the fact that he made artwork on a souvenir that people can bring into their homes, without him having to do much.
"It's pretty cool. I'm a little overwhelmed because my family now wants these pennies made," he said.
After winning the contest, Zins was inspired to produce additional artwork and has created landscape paintings from Bob Ross tutorial videos. He said this contest has helped him realize something.
"I can do art," he said.