Historic Change: Celebrating Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief

By Robyn Showanes
November 1, 2023

U.S. Treasurer Chief Lynn Malerba at a podium
U.S. Treasurer Chief Lynn Malerba speaks at the Maria Tallchief Quarter event.

The U.S. Mint celebrated the Maria Tallchief Quarter during an event in Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 29, 2023. The event was held in partnership with the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum and the Osage Nation. The Maria Tallchief Quarter is the final release in 2023 and the tenth coin overall in the American Women Quarters™ (AWQ) Program.

The event took place at the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum where approximately 400 guests attended. In honor of Tallchief being America’s first major prima ballerina, attendees enjoyed two ballet performances by the WahZhaZhe Ballet. In addition to the ballet performances, children from the Daposka Ahnkodapi school sang beautiful songs in the Osage language. Special guests in the crowd included U.S. Treasurer Chief Lynn Malerba, famed ballerina Misty Copeland, and actress and star of “Killers of the Flower Moon” Lily Gladstone.

Lily Gladstone speaking at the podium
Lily Gladstone speaks at the Maria Tallchief Quarter event.

During her remarks, Chief Malerba expressed her respect for Tallchief.

“Today I honor the strong indigenous woman who comes from a strong indigenous family who has strong indigenous people who are following the path with her.”

Michele Thompson, Chief of the Program Management Office at the Mint, explained the importance of the Maria Tallchief Quarter:

“At the Mint, we see the work we do as ‘Connecting America through Coins.’ It is our distinct pleasure to connect Americans to Maria Tallchief, America’s first major prima ballerina. She broke barriers as a Native American ballet dancer, exhibiting strength and resilience both on and off the stage.”

The event concluded with a coin pour, a ceremonial way of introducing the coin to the public. C. Cali Martin, Head of Collections Care and Stewardship, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Principal Chief, Osage Nation; Dana Bear, great niece of Maria Tallchief; Elise Paschen, daughter of Maria Tallchief; Chief Malerba; and Misty Copeland emptied 2,000 Maria Tallchief quarters into a into a beautiful box covered in traditional Osage ribbon work. A pair of pointe shoes, beaded by Dana Bear and gifted to Misty Copeland, were on display in front of it.

Maria Tallchief was the first major American prima ballerina who, as a Native American (Osage) dancer, broke barriers and exhibited strength and resilience both on and off the stage. Tallchief’s resilience and confidence shone through her many prestigious roles, including her signature role in Stravinsky’s ballet, “Firebird”, and in one of her most beloved performances as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, “The Nutcracker”. Additionally, Tallchief became the first American to dance with the Paris Opera Ballet. Her legacy is well remembered and celebrated today.

The reverse of the Maria Tallchief Quarter was designed by United States Mint Artistic Infusion Program Designer Benjamin Sowards, and sculpted by United States Mint Chief Engraver Joseph Menna. The coin released into circulation on October 23, 2023.

Representatives of Maria Tallchief's family, the Osage Nation, and the Smithsonian with U.S. Treasurer Chief Lynn Malerba, Misty Copeland, and U.S. Mint Program Lead Michele Thompson standing behind a decorated table
Representatives of Maria Tallchief’s family, the Osage Nation, and the Smithsonian with U.S. Treasurer Chief Lynn Malerba, Misty Copeland, and U.S. Mint Program Lead Michele Thompson.

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