Artist Name

birthPicture of Donald Borja
educationOld Dominion University
University of Pennsylvania

Donald A. Borja earned his undergraduate degree from Old Dominion University in 1969 and his master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to sculpture he also achieved success as a choreographer, musician, and stage set designer.

Borja works for the Army's Institute of Heraldry, which designs medals, seals, badges and monuments commemorating historic people, places and events. He designed a relief-sculpture of Navy Vice Admiral James Stockdale, the longest held POW in Vietnam. The sculpture is on a plaque that's presented to fleet commanders in the Pacific. Borja has been called "the keeper" of the President's seal. He created the model for the oval-shaped White House seal that is seen on TV when the President speaks to the nation. The Pentagon also uses a Borja-designed plaque for appearances by the Secretary of Defense.

Borja's most famous work is probably the Challenger crew memorial on Arlington National Cemetery. It commemorates the crew of the space shuttle Challenger which exploded during take-off on January 28, 1986. The park service estimates that the Challenger crew memorial is its second most-visited site, behind only the eternal-flame memorial for President Kennedy.

Borja created notable portrait medallions of such figures as Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright as well as a three-dimensional abstract medallion incorporating a likeness of the president of his alma mater, now used as an award for world statesmen.

Sourced from the listed sources in Resources section.

You can click medals to switch between obverse and reverse sides.

  • Solar Energy - Helios 1979
    by Donald Borja
    Golden bronze with graphite brown patina

    This design by Borja was chosen as the 99th issue of the prestigious Society of Medalists series. The obverse bears Helios shackled inside a huge atom. Around, UNSHACKLE THE BONDS OF HELIOS; below, Borja. The reverse bears figure of Sun God driving four horses. Above, SOLAR ENERGY; below, TOMORROW'S FUTURE.

    Borja designed this medal in the year of the "Oil shock" in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. As Iranian oil production dropped, oil prices more than doubled within a year. That dealt a severe economic shock to energy-intensive businesses and eventually to the entire economy.

    Photovoltaics had recently arrived as a potentially viable source of free energy. Borja expresses his hope that mankind would soon be able to harness the virtually unlimited energy from the sun to solve its energy problems. As of 2014, the world has just recently started to harvest significant amounts of energy from the sun.

    The medal measures 73mm in diameter. Struck by the Medallic Art Company of Danbury, the reported production quantity of this medal is 750 in bronze and 150 in silver.

    73.0mm (2.87in)
    Golden bronze with graphite brown patina
    73.0mm (2.87in)

  • Challenger memorial

    Challenger Memorial (1987)

    Borja sculpted the memorial based on a design by Sarah LeClerc, his colleague at the Army Institute of Heraldry. He recounts dealing with the atronauts' families during the modeling:

    "The surviving spouses all came to the Institute to give their blessings. All except the husband of Christa McAuliffe, because he was too distraught to deal with it, and he just gave his blessing to whatever we could do... The difficulty in respecting and working with someone who's grieving is that they remember their loved ones in so many different ways. Almost all of the spuses wanted me to give their loved ones just a little more smile. I don't really like to do that sometimes, because I don't want to falsify anyone. But it was only a few little changes they were asking for, and I did a few things and they were all satisfied. That was very gratifying."

    The original image can be found on the Arlington National Cemetery website.

Contact me if you have links that might merit inclusion on this page.

Books & Articles

American Art Medals, 1909-1995 by David Thomason Alexander
David T. Alexander's book can be purchased at the above link. Highly recommended for anyone interested in SOM. I am deeply indebted to him for all the information I used to document the SOM medals on this site.

Research Archives and Websites

Interview with Borja
The Bugle, Vol. 4 No. 3, May/Jone 2008. A publication of the Battlefield Boogie Club of Fredericksburg, VA.
Image of Borja at Institute of Heraldry
Image of Borja making the mold of a new seal at the Institute for Heraldry.