By Thomas Fields-Meyer
June 14, 1999 12:00 PM

As creator of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial—the seven-foot-tall bronze sculpture erected in 1993 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.—artist Glenna Goodacre has experienced her most gratifying moments watching visitors reach out to touch her work. “If someone is so moved by my piece that they want to put a hand on it and feel whatever they can,” says Goodacre, 59, “what better compliment could you get?” By that measure, Goodacre is about to become a most successful sculptor. Next year the U.S. Mint will put into circulation a dollar coin bearing Goodacre’s portrayal of Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian teen who served as interpreter for explorers Lewis and Clark on their westward trek nearly two centuries ago. “The result,” says the artist, “will be a Goodacre sculpture in everybody’s pocket.”

It was last summer that Goodacre read in a newspaper that the Mint had chosen Sacagawea as the subject of the coin that would replace the ill-fated Susan B. Anthony dollar, which was rebuffed by Americans because it was hard to distinguish from a quarter. Since there are no depictions of the real Sacagawea, Goodacre found her own model, a 22-year-old Shoshone woman named Randy’L He-dow Teton, and created six different designs, which were among 121 submitted to the Mint by 23 artists. After Mint officials collected public responses to six contending designs on a Web site, they narrowed it down to three—all, as it happened, by Goodacre. On May 4 her rendition of Sacagawea carrying a baby (the young interpreter brought her infant son on the expedition) was unveiled. “I always thought, how could I do better than to have a piece on the Mall in Washington?” Goodacre says. “And then along comes this.”

Born in Lubbock, Texas, the second of two daughters of a real estate developer and a homemaker, Good-acre studied art at Colorado College in Colorado Springs and later in New York City. “It was always a goal of mine to be a professional artist,” says Goodacre, who put much of her energy into raising Tim, 36, a real estate broker in Boulder, Colo., and Jill, 35, the former Victoria’s Secret model who is married to singer Harry Connick Jr. Divorced from their father, real estate broker Bill Goodacre, in 1984, Goodacre remarried in 1995 to Mike Schmidt, a Dallas lawyer who commutes on weekends to Santa Fe, where she has lived since 1983.

Working at first as a portrait painter, Goodacre switched in 1969 to bronze sculptures, many depicting women and children. “I generally do what I wish, and I’m fortunate people want to collect my pieces,” says Goodacre, whose prices start at $1,200. Her sculptures of Ronald Reagan stand at his presidential library and at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Coin enthusiasts are giving great reviews to Goodacre’s Sacagawea design, which will appear on a gold-colored coin with an eagle (by another artist) on the flip side. Unlike all other U.S. coins, which bear profiles, the Sacagawea dollars “have someone staring right at you,” says Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World. Goodacre hopes that, looking the famous Indian in the eye, people will be moved by her youth, strength and intensity. “We’d all like to do something,” she says, “that truly means something emotionally to people.”

Thomas Fields-Meyer

Zelie Pollon in Santa Fe and Susan Gray in Washington, D.C.