My Hairy Harriet Tubman Story

Posted by on Jun 18, 2015 in Illustration, News | 2 Comments

Recently, it came to my attention that the Harriet Tubman portrait I drew in 2012 for Follow The Northern Star (below) had been used in a global campaign by an organization called Women On 20s, attempting to get a woman on the U.S. $20 bill (you probably heard about it).

Harriet Tubman portrait | Elden Creative Group

The original portrait of Harriet Tubman used by Women On 20s.

Great, right?! Well, it could have been, only they used the Tubman image without authorization. No attempts to obtain licensing rights for the image were made, despite multiple links offering the contact information to do so.

While Northern Star‘s owner and I have jointly attempted to reach some sort of friendly agreement with Women On 20s, we have so far been unable to do so. We agree with their mission and therefore want to avoid legal action, but we feel as though we should be compensated for the image’s use on such a large stage. That’s only fair, right?

So the goal of this post is twofold:
1. To bring attention to artists’ rights and media piracy online.
2. To provide enough information to convince the public and/or a judge & jury that a considerable amount of potential business was lost due to the absence of proper credit for the image. I draw pictures to make money, and Northern Star sells awesome educational materials featuring some of those pictures to make money. We are not huge companies, mind you.


Where did they get the image?

It’s my guess they picked it from a simple Google image search (it’s on this website). It appears on the first page of results:


The campaign itself was voted on by more than 600,000 people, and liked/shared on social media countless times. Below is the portrait featured prominently on the Women On 20s “Candidates” page (see my signature?) and “Meet the Winner” page:

Women On 20s | Harriet Tubman portrait by Christian Elden


The Tubman $20 mock-up Women On 20s provided to the media (featuring the head of my portrait) has appeared around the country world, including features on virtually every major news outlet. Again, all without accreditation.

Women On 20s | Harriet Tubman portrait by Christian Elden


It’s my understanding that the #WomenOn20s campaign trended on Twitter at least twice. Tweets from notable accounts featuring the image:


Other tweets about the campaign:


Media screen grabs:

CBS News




History Channel

CBS Money Watch

USA Today

NBC Nightly News Video

Again on Women On 20s Website (VIDEO)

Again on Women On 20s Website (VIDEO)


Use on social media:


But why does the image on the bill look different than yours?

As a creative professional with over a decade of experience, it wasn’t too difficult to see how the image was manipulated for the $20 bill. Even though my portrait drawing is pretty close to the reference image, I recognized it immediately. It appears they took the head of my drawing, flipped it and added it to Tubman’s shoulders from another photo, then added it to the bill. See my quick (and bad) recreation below:


And as I attempt to point out here, there are recognizable differences between the reference image and my drawing, which showed up on the $20 mock-up (see below):


But What Can I Do?

If you can identify at all with our situation, whether you’re a creative professional who’s gone through something similar, or even if some bully used to copy your homework, I hope you’ll share this post. We’re just trying to get credit where credit is due!

Thanks for looking!


  1. Jody Taylor
    June 18, 2015

    You are totally in the right, keep up the fight! Unbelievable story that could happen to anyone with the internet.

  2. Colin
    June 19, 2015

    I would not rule out legal action. There are plenty of people with good causes, but if they steal to promote their cause, thats still wrong. Secondly, they are making money off of the campaign. They have some funds with which to compensate you, and the fact that the refuse is illegal, and crappy. Thirdly this is bigger than you. If people are not held accountable this kind of thing will get easier to do to others in the future. People need to know this is a serious offense and ruins industries.


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