A well-told and important story from Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest is depicted on the Raven Story postage stamp issued July 30 (Figure 3). The stamp is inspired by the traditional story of the raven setting the sun, moon and stars free. The design depicts a raven just as he escapes from his human family and begins to transform back into his bird form.
Figure 3. For purchasing information and technical details about the Raven Story stamp, see https://aps.buzz/RavenStoryUSPS.
The stamp depicts just one of many stories about the raven, a figure of great significance to the Indigenous people of the northern Northwest Coast, part of the area that ranges from Southeast Alaska through coastal British Columbia and south into Washington state.
Among the cultures of the region – which include the Tlingit, the Tsimshian, the Haida, the Kwakwaka’wakw and others – the raven plays an essential role in many traditional tales, including stories about the creation of the world. The different peoples of the northern Northwest Coast each have their own culturally specific versions of the raven story, which often convey customs, ethics and cultural inheritances that help communities preserve or affirm their identities.
Art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamp, which is being sold in panes of 20, based on art created by Tlingit/Athabascan designer and artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl. To create the stamp art, Worl used formline, the traditional design style of the Indigenous people of the northern Northwest Coast.
“Raven stories are a core aspect to Tlingit epistemology and I’m excited to share my representation of the Raven Story in a mixed modern and traditional way with this beautiful stamp” Worl said. “I hope this stamp inspires people to learn more about Alaska Native and Native American cultures as both rich traditional people and modern innovative and creative people.”
The stamp was scheduled to be released in 2020, but was held back so a live dedication could be held. That ceremony was held in Worl’s hometown of Juneau, Alaska.
“The Raven Story represents a great meaning to the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast” said Jakki Krage Strako, the Postal Service’s chief commerce and business solutions officer and executive vice president, who served as the event’s dedicating official. “The Postal Service is proud and honored to create this lasting tribute to the Raven Story through the issuance of this stamp.”
Joining Strako to dedicate the stamp were Marlene Johnson, chair of the Sealaska Heritage Institute Board of Trustees; Beth Weldon, mayor of Juneau; Frank Henry Kaash Katasse, playwright, actor and educator; Lance (X̱’unei) A Twitchell, associate professor of Alaska Native Languages, University of Alaska Southeast, and artist Rico Worl.
Worl is the founder of Trickster Company which strives to promote innovative indigenous design. His work speaks to the experience of living with traditional values as a modern person. His websites are www.trickstercompany.com and www.ricoworl.com.
Worl tells the stamp’s story on the website for the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a tribal nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
Worl described the Raven story that animated his design for the stamp on Sealaska’s website (www.sealaskaheritage.org/):
“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the Sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the Sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama. The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars.
“In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape — transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.”
RICO WORL – STAMP ARTIST
(Following are excerpts from an APS interview held with Rico Worl earlier this year:)
Which of your projects are you most proud of?
The stamp of course is a huge honor. To be able to represent on a national platform is huge. Personally though, the project I call Trickster Company is the project I am most proud of. I set out on the venture with some goals and I am steadily able to accomplish them over time. In particular, I love when I see kids playing with a basketball we designed or someone messages us and says they saw our artwork in some random place in the world. It makes me feel like we are making a difference with our work, even if just in a small way with one or two people.
How did you become an artist? What is your educational background?
I (attended) the University of Pennsylvania (and earned) a Bachelors of Arts in social anthropology. I came home and started working for my community at Sealaska Heritage Institute with my degree. As far as the art, I never really considered myself an artist very much. I often label myself as a social designer since much of my work in design is one through my lens as an anthropologist. I address a few key issues with my work in a variety of areas that I’ve kind of assessed through that lens.
How has your Native American background influenced your art? Any other inspirations/influences?
Art is integral to culture. So art and design was ALWAYS something I worked on while I wasn't working on other projects. It became the tool I felt most adept at using in my design career.
Do you collect stamps?
I have collected some since I started designing them in 2018. I like space-related stamps. I’ve always wanted to go to space. The moon eclipse stamp (2017) was amazing and I love any Star Wars stamps, as well. I’ve been a fan of stamps that promote people of color’s stories, as well. Most have been commemorative stamps honoring leaders in the BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color) community, though, so I hope in the future to see more artists from these communities able to tell stories via the platform like I have had the opportunity to.
What inspired you to have your art featured on a stamp?
I was approached by Antonio Alcalá, an art director with the USPS.
How did you first meet Antonio?
He discovered our work in the gift shop at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
How did you choose the story of the Raven to inspire your stamp design?
I knew that I would be representing a very large national audience. I wanted to represent a good entry point for learning about Tlingit culture. I have some information on my website, (including) a video version of the story. I hope it inspires people to not only see Native American people as modern people who carry vibrant cultures, but that they also are inspired to go learn something about those cultures.
Can you talk about the process of designing art for a stamp?
After being approached to design the stamp, I approached the design process by just drawing out what I wanted to do. It was a unique process because I worked with Antonio as well as the USPS stamp selection committee to kind of focus on what would make a good stamp but also represent the story and culture well. This was different from my usual process … so I experimented designing differently. Usually, I design digitally. This project I actually took large sheets of paper and did more gestural work with charcoal. Then, when I had a form I liked, I refined it in pencil. And finally, I digitized it.