The following is the first part of the article. To read part two of this article, click here.
Identifying the theme for new stamps in May from the U.S. Postal Service in July is easy. It’s water, water everywhere – as an element, though, not the primary subject of all 15 stamps in three issues.
The stamps feature one individual – marine scientist Eugenie Clark, fondly known as the Shark Lady; the Mississippi River, depicted in 10 contemporary photographs; and women’s rowing honored by four issues in a cleverly constructed pane of 20.
All stamps are first-class domestic Forever stamps, which means they were sold at 58 cents at the time of sale. As of July 10, however, the first-class domestic rate is due to increase to 60 cents.
We’ve had sharks on stamps and now we have the Shark Lady. Ichthyologist and oceanographer Eugenie Clark appears on a new commemorative formally issued May 4 at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida (Figure 1). Clark (1922-2015) was a pioneering marine biologist – affectionally known as the “Shark Lady” – who helped found the scientific research center as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory in 1955.
Figure 1. Details and purchase information about the Eugenie Clark stamp is available at https://aps.buzz/Sharklady.
Those dedicating the stamp included Angela Curtis, vice president retail and post office operations, U.S. Postal Service; Michael P. Crosby, president and CEO of the Mote; and Aya Konstantinou, Clark’s daughter.
“One of the goals of the Postal Service’s stamp program is to celebrate the people who represent the best of our nation and Eugenie Clark — I should say Dr. Clark or the ‘Shark Lady’ — certainly deserves this recognition,” said Curtis. “She was a brilliant scientist whose groundbreaking work added to our understanding of sharks and marine environments.”
The stamp art features a digital collage created by multidisciplinary artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. Her design includes a photograph of Clark taken by David Doubilet, as well as a photograph of a lemon shark taken by Reinhard Dirscherl. Wavy blue elements in the stamp’s background evoke an undersea scene. The stamp has been produced in panes of 20 on the Gallus RCS press by Banknote Corporation of America.
“Our family is thrilled to see Dr. Clark, or as we call her, Grandma Genie, recognized and honored on a stamp,” said Konstantinou. “Her work as an ichthyologist was groundbreaking for proving that sharks are intelligent, and she was a pioneer for female scientists, researchers and scuba divers. We are so proud of her legacy as an Asian-American woman, teacher, scientist — and most importantly — grandmother.”
Crosby praised Clark during the first day ceremony. “One could say she was a trailblazer for women,” Crosby said, according to a report from WFLA television in Sarasota. “When you think about it, when she started pursuing her degrees, nobody in the field looked like Genie, women didn’t do that. She was a young, Japanese-American woman in the mid-1900s here in America and she began to crack glass ceilings, but then really broke through them with her accomplishments.”
Clark created the lab in 1955. Back then, it was called the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory. “When you think about Mote Marine Laboratory as a global powerhouse for very innovative marine research and science education, it is all built upon pillars that Genie really established 67 years ago,” Crosby said. The three pillars are passion, partnership and philanthropy.
Clark spent her career working tirelessly to change public perception about sharks as well as to preserve marine environments around the world. She conducted a series of groundbreaking experiments and carried out more than 200 expeditions across the globe. Clark demonstrated that lemon sharks could be trained to do complex tasks, disproved the notion that some shark species must keep swimming in order to survive and debunked myths about sharks as vicious, fearsome creatures. She also made significant contributions to the study of hermaphroditism in fishes, discovered several fish species, and even found that one species naturally repels sharks.
Clark’s “childhood rapture with fish in a New York City aquarium led to a life of scholarly adventure in the littorals and depths of the Seven Seas and to a global reputation as a marine biologist and expert on sharks,” said the scientist’s obituary in 2015 in the New York Times.
The obituary offered a few highlights from Clark’s long career:
“Long before ‘Jaws’ scared the wits out of swimmers, Dr. Clark rode a 40-foot whale shark off Baja California, ran into killer great white sharks while scuba diving in Hawaii, studied ‘sleeping’ sharks in undersea caves off the Yucatán, witnessed a shark’s birth and found a rare six-gill shark in a submersible dive off Bermuda.
“She also swam into schools of man-eating barracuda and had disconcerting encounters with 500-pound clams and giant squid. Despite close calls, she was never attacked, and she tended to make light of the dangers. Indeed, she told of the privileges of exploring an undersea world of exotic creatures and enchanting beauty.”
Clark was widely respected for her research as well as for her eager embrace of new advances in diving technology, knowing that each development would bring her closer to the creatures she loved. A pioneer in the era when scuba emerged as a research tool, she later took more than 70 trips in high-tech submersibles, sometimes as deep as 12,000 feet beneath the ocean surface — something that has still been done by only a small number of other marine biologists.
An inspiration to scientists and laypeople alike, Clark left an extraordinary legacy. Her life and career blazed a trail for women marine biologists and continue to excite new generations of scientists and explorers. For her contributions to marine science, she received the Franklin L. Burr Award from the National Geographic Society and was honored posthumously by Congress in 2015. A species of dogfish shark newly discovered in the Gulf of Mexico was named Squalus clarkae in her honor in 2018.
Innovations in stamp design, production and marketing in modern times continues to create creative products that can be just plain fun, and in the case of the new Women’s Rowing stamps, I’d say brilliant (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Details and purchase information for the Women’s Rowing stamps are available at https://aps.buzz/womenrow.
Look at the stamps individually – designed as two pairs, a red crew and a blue crew – and you see what looks like the same two women on each stamp team rowing in low-lying boats, also called shells, from left to right. The differences between the stamps are the oars in the water.
Figure 3. Above, the two red-team stamps taken from the pane. Below, the two blue-team stamps taken from the pane.
Now, look at these stamps in pairs (Figure 3). On the first stamp (left stamp) of the red team pair, the forward-leaning rowers have dipped their oars and are about to pull. A small part of the right-side rower’s oar (also called a blade) dips toward the water. The second stamp (right stamp) shows a continuation of that oar diagonally across the shell and making a splash. Other than that, the postures, hair styles and visors of the rowers are the same.
Now, the blue team. These rowers lean back, having just completed their stroke. On the first stamp (left stamp) two rowers wearing caps are seen, but only the upper parts of their oars are visible. However, the yellow blade of an unseen rower behind the right-hand rower has come out of the water from the pull. On the second (right side) stamp of the blue team, we get a full view of the rower whose paddle has emerged from the water plus another rower behind her. Again, the postures, hairstyles and caps of the two rowers are identical on each stamp.
Now, look at the whole sheet. Stripping four stamps across creates the illusion of eight rowers in a single shell. Now, add a coxswain, in the left selvage. The coxie is like a pilot who sits at the stern, and shouts orders, often through a megaphone of sorts.
Put the strips of red-team stamps across the pane with the strips of the blue-team stamps below them. Add three more strips in alternating colors, each with an accompanying coxswain in the selvage, and we have five boats ready to race. Offset those rows alternately by about a half-a-stamp and the whole thing looks like a hotly contested regatta.
This pane of 20 stamps lets you hear the barking of the coxie, see the spray from the paddles dipping, hear the occasional groans from the rowers putting their all into it and experience the smooth glide of the shells across the water.
This winning design is best kept as a whole, but collectors might seek out contemporary uses on mail; there will be fewer blue-crew stamps than red. The Women’s Rowing stamps were formally issued May 13 at the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club. Nancy Stahl was the designer and illustrator; Ethel Kessler was art director.
Though Postal Service news releases noted the importance of Title IX in connection with the growth of women’s rowing, Kessler said that the stamps were not linked in any way to the release earlier this year of stamps celebrating Title IX, the federal law that did much to open up organized athletic competition for girls and women.
Women’s crew, or rowing, was among the many sports that benefitted from Title IX, which prohibited gender-based discrimination in federally funded education, including athletics. Men’s crew teams at some institutions had been racing each other since the mid-19th century, and administrators could not always fathom women in such a strenuous and macho sport — until they started winning big. The first time women rowers competed in the Olympics was in 1976. The women’s eight-person crew won bronze. The team won gold in 1984, the next games in which the United States participated. The team then began a glorious second winning streak in 2004, attaining silver that year and gold in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Kessler addressed the triumphs and challenges of the design in an email interview.
“My niece was on the crew team at her high school for four years and she loved it!” Kessler said. “So, I was particularly tuned in to the subject matter and wanted it to reflect the joy of being on the water. As you can see from the shadow boat in the selvage on the top left of the pane, the boats are very long and trying to fit the entire boat in the space of the pane, and have eight gals rowing at stamp size was a real puzzle to figure out,” Kesler said. “And you don’t have a boat without the coxswain, so how to fit all of that on the pane?”
But Stahl – credited with more than a dozen stamp issues, including Women’s Vote stamp, Frogs, Amur Tiger Cub and Soda Fountain Favorites – was more than ready for the challenge.
“The first thing to know is that Nancy is amazing at creating a beautiful illustration and assembling the parts like a puzzle,” Kessler said. “And there is nothing traditional about this pane of stamps other than 20 stamps are on the pane, and that was even a challenge!”
The result: Brilliance!
Ethel Kessler, Stamp Designer
When did you start working on these stamps?
Can I ask what the specific assignment was? Was it for one women’s rowing stamp, or two or more?
The subject was “women’s rowing.” The committee is not as specific about the number of stamps as much as it is to capture the subject. This is a case that as we proceeded, the story was enhanced by the added stamps and the landscape in which Nancy set the stamps.
Did Nancy take her own photos for these stamps?
As far as I know, Nancy did not take any photos used for reference.
There could have been several angles to photograph rowers … Did you work with Nancy at all in regards of how to shoot photos for these stamps?
Hundreds of photos are shot at each of the regattas year after year. And we used those photos as our resources. We had to make sure the shots were of women, the boats were “professional” rowers, and we preferred that they were racing. There were shots from the bridges, on the water, next to the boats, and every other angle you can imagine.
Can you please explain some more about the creation process.
Nancy worked through many variations of what the stamps could be. Four rowers on one boat … two rowers … every way that we could envision. I even found out just before we got started that Nancy had taken lessons in crew. You know, that makes a huge difference, because it means she knows how each stroke feels in her body.
(We realized) that if we merely repeated the same [red crew] five times down the sheet, that could have worked, but it wouldn’t have looked like a race. So I asked Nancy to try the return stroke in the next row, so we could get some competitive action going. The entire pane becomes the river, and the opposite shoreline has lots of trees; a gorgeous activity for the day.
Oh, and everything had to be scaled so the pairs would break perfectly. And we had to find a way to add “FOREVER USA” and, of course, everything had to work at stamp size!