Thomasian alumnus Paul Balan: First Filipino U.S. Mint Coin Designer

Paul Balan is steeped in the arts, having been born in Paete, Laguna, a town known for its sculptors, painters, musicians and poets, and being a descendant of Pablo Bague, one of Paete’s master
sculptors. Thus, it would not be surprising if as a child he already manifested his artistic giftedness.  This even brought him to the College of Fine Arts and Design of the University of Santo Tomas where
he enrolled in Fine Arts.

As a student, he was a constant participant and winner of various art competitions, such as the prestigious Metrobank’s Young Painters’ Annual Exhibition and the Art Association of the Philippines
National Painting Competition. However, Paul had to leave the University to pursue further his craft. Chasing after his dream was no easy feat. Under the terrible heat of the sun, he carried his
paintings around Manila and went in and out of banks to sell them. To earn money, he focused more on liturgical arts and made paintings, murals, sculptures and stained glass designs for churches
across the country. He also went to the Mountain Province to live with the Ifugaos and immersed himself with their culture to complete a project with the Veterans’ Museum. His projects kept on
coming but he still was not able to live a comfortable life.

In 2002, Paul married his high school sweetheart and migrated to Chicago, USA with just $5 in his pocket. He worked as a waiter, forklift operator, and mailman to provide for his family. Even if he
was busy providing for his family, Paul found time to paint. After work, he would go to a park and stay for hours to paint. After four years of juggling his work, family, and passion, he was able to finish his
18 x 24 feet painting where he interpreted the Philippine National Anthem. This paved the way for a more colourful life as his art pieces made waves across the U.S. He was supported by the Philippine
Historical Society in the U.S. and his painting was featured in places like the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Consulate General of the Philippines in Chicago.

His stint as an artist continued as Paul was encouraged by his wife to join the Artistic Infusion Program of the U.S. Mint in 2008, an exclusive artistic pool that consisted of designers, engravers,
sculptors, painters and other visual artists who were contracted to create and submit coin and medal designs for the Mint. Paul was given a spot in the program although at the onset, he did not expect to
be chosen because he knew that this was not his line of work. To prepare for this challenge, he went all over the States to immerse himself with the place and the culture and drew as much designs as he

Every year, the Mint would open numerous projects for artists like Paul. Coin and medal designs of the artists would undergo rigorous screening and evaluation before being chosen. Most of
the time, Paul’s work would be included in the shortlists like his PACEM design in the Japanese Mint’s International Coin Design Competition in 2012. By the year 2013, his Statue of Liberty award-
winning design for the National Humanities Medal was recognized and unveiled by the former President Barack Obama in an annual White House ceremony. In 2015, he was recognized for his
obverse and reverse designs for the Code Talkers Recognition Congressional Medals Programs, for his gold reverse design in the U.S. Marshals Service 225 th Anniversary Commemorative Coin
Program, and for his silver obverse design in the March of Dimes Silver Dollar Commemorative Coin.

In 2016, Paul was acknowledged for his reverse coin design in the American Eagle Platinum Proof Coin Program. His reverse coin design for America the Beautiful Quarters Program was also given
recognition in 2018. This year, 2019, his designs for the $5 reverse gold coin and $1 obverse silver coin were chosen for commemoration of the 100 th Anniversary of the American Legion. The said one
dollar and five dollar coins are in active circulation this year.

When not drawing designs for coins, Paul paints and sculpts in his free time. Over the years, he has created 30 paintings and four bronze sculptures that were showcased in an exhibition held in
December 2018 at the RE Vision Art Gallery in Wisconsin, USA.

Paul is living the dream he pursued for almost three decades. The young man who left the University some 28 years ago, still has vivid memories of valuable life lessons he learned from the
institution. “’Yung determinasyon, ‘yung mga natutunan ko sa mga propesor ko, ‘yung pagiging matiyaga at pagiging dedikado sa aming trabaho… Natutunan ko lahat sa UST,” (The determination, the
teachings of my professors, and the perseverance… I’ve learned it all from UST,) says Paul.

Paul is currently working on some designs for the US Mint and is collaborating with a writer for the book of his Philippine National Anthem painting. He is also working with the Office of Alumni
Relations for the new design of the Thomasian Alumni Jubilarian medals that would be unveiled later this year.

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