30th anniversary of the litas. Creators of litas banknotes

This year marks thirty years since the litas began to circulate again in Lithuania after a more than 50-year break. This happened on 25 June 1993. We had the litas for a significant part of our history until the introduction of the euro in Lithuania in 2015. During this period, Lithuania changed and modernised, and the litas became an important symbol of the change of independent Lithuania. In this series of articles dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the litas, we discussed the most important stages of the development of the litas, its issuance, and remembered the most important elements of the design of litas banknotes and coins. Today we will talk about the people who created the litas banknotes. 

We have already written that the contest for future Lithuanian money projects was announced long before the introduction of the litas and even before the declaration of Lithuania’s independence. The contest took place in 1989. Lithuanian artists and sculptors participated. At the beginning, as many as 120 creators wanted to participate. Then, enthusiasm dropped and only 14 remained.

The contest was supposed to take place in two rounds. Only the nominated creators were allowed to participate in the second round. The winner of the first place was supposed to receive a prize of 900, the second — 700 and the third — 600 roubles. However, the jury decided not to give the first place in any contests for the creation of coins or banknotes. The second-place prizes for banknote projects were won by the artists Alvydas Mandeika and Liudvikas Pocius, while for the coins — Petras Henrikas Garška. The third-place prizes for banknote projects were awarded to the brothers Aistis and Naglis Baltušnikas, and for coin projects — Jolanta Balkevičienė and Antanas Žukauskas.
By the way, creating money when lacking experience required consultants who would know about the production of money and could help with this complex and diligent work. The Australian-Lithuanian Kęstutis Jonas Lynikas became a consultant. Who was this man?

Kęstutis Jonas Lynikas (1924–1997)
He was born in Burniškiai, Lazdijai district. After graduating from Lazdijai High School, he studied at the Faculty of Engineering of Vytautas Magnus University (1942–1943). After the Soviets occupied Lithuania, in 1944 he retreated to the West, to Germany. He continued his studies at the University of Frankfurt and earned a degree in medicine. By the way, Lynikas was one of four foreign students who received a scholarship at the time. He arrived in Australia in 1948. While living in Australia he continued his studies and enrolled at the Royal Institute of Technology in Melbourne, where he studied chemistry (graduated in 1963). From 1961 to 1988 he worked at the Bank of Australia Banknote Printing Division. Since 1989, he had been actively involved in the restoration of the litas, provided constructive advice, and improved the proposed projects (even presented the banknote variants himself). In 1992, he became an official advisor to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania on money production issues. Since 1993, his position was known as “Bank of Lithuania Consultant on Banknotes and Coins.”
From 1994 to 1997 he was honorary consul of the Republic of Lithuania in Australia.

Banknote creators

In 1990, litas design work continued, technical requirements were clarified, and it was being decided which personalities should be depicted on the banknotes. Finally, it was decided to portray the 19th and 20th century cultural personalities who created Lithuania and brought it to 16 February.
The final decision was made on portraits of personalities, images, and predominant colours in banknotes of different denominations: On the 100 litas banknote it was decided to portray Simonas Daukantas and Vilnius University (yellowish green), on the 50 litas banknote — Jonas Basanavičius and Vilnius Cathedral with St. Christopher (greenish grey), 20 litas — Maironis and the War Museum with the “Laisvė” statue in Kaunas (pink), 10 litas — Vydūnas and Klaipėda (yellowish brown), 5 litas — Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas and Lituanica against the background of the outlines of the American, European continents, and the Atlantic Ocean (dark grey), 2 litas — a portrait of a woman and Trakai Castle (green), 1 litas — a portrait of a man and an image proposed by the artist (pale brown). The sketch of the latter banknote had not yet been completed at that time. The 500 and 1,000 litas banknote projects were to be developed later.

The artists Justas Tolvaišis, Rimvydas Bartkus, Giedrius Jonaitis, and Rytis Valantinas were invited to prepare final projects, in addition to the previously awarded authors Mandeika and Pocius. Edmundas Rimša became a history consultant.

This group of developers created the first litas banknotes in 1990. Their projects were sent to France. The banknotes were supposed to be printed at François Charles Oberthur. However, the company refused to do so (possibly due to pressure from the USSR) and banknote issuance plans were postponed. New projects were created in 1991 and the banknotes were printed at the United States Banknote Corporation (USBC) printing house. Who were the creators of these litas? Basically — the same persons who participated in the creation of previous banknotes. 

The 10 litas banknote was created by G. Jonaitis (later he created the design of the 1, 2, 5, and later 10, 20 and 50 litas banknotes, the design of the 500 litas banknote issued in 2007), the creator of the 20 litas banknote (the first two issues) was J. Tolvaišis, and the first two 50 litas — R. Bartkus. Valantinas created the design of the 100 and 200 litas banknotes of the 2000 issue and the 1,000 litas banknotes that never appeared in circulation, while Raimondas Miknevičius, who was invited to the team, created the design of the 500 litas banknote printed in 1991 but not issued into circulation. 

So, briefly about all the authors. 

Giedrius Jonaitis (b. 1963)

Born in Vilnius. In 1975-1981, he studied art at the M. K. Čiurlionis Art School, and in 1981-1987 he studied graphics at the Lithuanian SSR State Art Institute. Since 1988 he has been teaching at Vilnius Academy of Arts and is a professor here. Graphic artist, sculptor, and installation author. Organises exhibitions. They have been organised not only in Lithuania but also abroad (Australia, Austria, Germany, France, Sweden, Poland, Japan, Russia, Uruguay, USA, Italy), his works can be found in Lithuanian and foreign museums or in private collections. Since he created the majority of litas banknotes, he is sometimes referred to as the “father of the litas.” 

Justas Tolvaišis (1954–2008)

Born in Vabalninka (Biržai d.). In 1978, he graduated from the Lithuanian SSR State Art Institute, with a degree in graphic art. In 1981–1985, he worked at the Kaunas J. Naujalis School of Art, in 1991–1993 — at the Kaunas Art Institute. Created decorative pano (batik technique), posters, booklets, linen carvings, and etchings. Illustrated books (e.g.: Romualdas Neimantas’ “Gintaro kelias” (1985), collection of Lithuanian folk fairy tales “Stebuklingas žodis” (1985), Sigitas Geda’s “Kurdų sakmės” (1987), for which he received awards.) He created not only the litas, but also the design for the temporary money — talonas. He died during a fire in his studio in Žaliakalnis. Buried in Panemunė cemetery.

Rimvydas (Ray) Bartkus (b. 1961)

Born in Vilnius. In 1986, he graduated from the Lithuanian SSR State Art Institute. Since 1988, he has participated in exhibitions in Lithuania and abroad (Sweden, Uruguay, Germany, Japan, Macedonia, USA, Canada, etc.). At first, he created lithography, etchings, and pencil drawings. He has been living in New York since 1991, producing illustrations for newspapers and magazines — The Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, Harper’s, Los Angeles Times, and others. Also creates prints made using digital technologies, video projects, drawings; the material for his creative work is selected from the mass media. In 2018, at the Union Washington railway station, presented the Sodai installation, dedicated to the centenary of the restoration of the Lithuanian state. In 2019, he created the installation “12 RAMių” at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation in Vilnius. In Marijampolė he organises the art symposium “Malonny": Marijampole, London, New York — the migration of ideas; a number of street artworks were created here. The works are dominated by political, economic, and social themes. 

Rytis Valantinas (b. 1961)

Born in Kaunas. In 1979, he graduated from M. K. Čiurlionis Art School in Vilnius. In 1979-1986, he studied graphic art at the Vilnius Academy of Arts. In 1994–2005, he worked as a lecturer at the Drawing Department of the Vilnius Academy of Arts. Since 1987, he participated in various graphic exhibitions and triennials in Lithuania and abroad. From 2005 to 2009, he lived in Athens, where he worked mainly in the field of painting and created painting cycles, inspired associations, experiences, and discoveries while living in Greece. Since 2008, he has participated in various painting exhibitions. 

By the way, he was also one of the artists who created not only litas, but also talonas banknotes.