News & Politics

Behind the Scenes: Crafting the Presidential Seal

Inside the Department of the Army’s Institute of Heraldry.

Photograph by Ron Blunt.

Front and center during January’s inauguration will be the Seal of the President of the United States. Creating it is the responsibility of the Department of the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, whose nine craftsmen handmake medals, emblems, and military-uniform decorations in a former barracks at Fort Belvoir. With roots dating to World War I, the institute also makes the emblems for new government agencies—most recently for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Creating a presidential seal, which can range in diameter from five to 25 inches, takes two weeks. Most seals are formed with resin molds, then hand-painted, though the seal in this photo, worked on by artist Michael Craghead, is made of carbon fiber specially constructed for the weight requirements of Air Force One. Craghead estimates that in a decade he has painted some 300 seals.

This article appears in the December 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.