The US Postal Service Is in Dire Straits. Help Them Out by Buying Some of These 12 Fantastic Art-Themed Stamps

These stamps, featuring the likes of Ellsworth Kelly and Romare Bearden, are works of art in themselves.

Frida Kahlo, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, and Mark Rothko stamps. Courtesy of the US Postal Service.
Frida Kahlo, Ellsworth Kelly, Andy Warhol, and Mark Rothko stamps. Courtesy of the US Postal Service.

The fate of the US Postal Service is in question as the institution faces an unprecedented budgetary shortfall and widespread slowdowns in delivery times. Ahead of the US election, where a much higher percentage of citizens is expected to vote by mail than usual, the USPS (of all things!) has become a topic of heated discussion and debate.

Part of the problem is that the USPS has not been funded by taxpayers since 1982. Instead, it relies on revenue from mail and packages. But the volume of mail has dropped by 30 percent since 2006, according to NBC News.

In other words, it’s never been a better time to buy stamps and use them to send that special someone a note. And that’s good news for art lovers. For decades, the USPS has selected individual works of art to adorn some of its most memorable stamps. “The Postal Service takes tremendous pride in its stamp program, which celebrates the very best of American life, history, and culture,” Patrick Mendonca, a senior director of the USPS, said in a statement in 2017.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most compelling examples of artist-inspired stamps.

 

Ruth Asawa

© 2020 U.S. Ruth Asawa stamps ©2020 U.S. Postal Service. All rights reserved.Postal Service. All rights reserved.

Ruth Asawa stamps. ©2020 U.S. Postal Service. All rights reserved.

Issued: 2020

Price: “Forever” stamps (equal in value to the current first-class mail one-ounce price); currently 55 cents each, or $11 for a sheet of 20

Fun fact: The late Japanese-American artist’s intricate, looped-wire sculptures are prized by museums, art collectors, and design aficionados alike. Now, they can be enjoyed by all. “To have our mother’s art featured on stamps is the highest honor,” Addie Lanier, Ruth Asawa’s daughter, said in a statement last week. “She believed art is for everyone. And these stamps will bring her work into homes across the country.”

 

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper "Nighthawk Stamp." Copyright United States Postal Service.

Edward Hopper “Nighthawk Stamp.” Copyright United States Postal Service.

Issued: 1998

Price: 32-cent mint single

Fun fact: Originally, art directors wanted to use a different Hopper work, House by the Railroad, for the stamp. But the Museum of Modern Art, which owned the painting, wouldn’t allow it to be cropped. So the USPS turned to Nighthawks, which they had permission to crop. The result is less a picture of modern alienation than of a trio enjoying one another’s company.

 

Grant Wood

Grant Wood, <i>American Gothic</i>. ©United States Postal Service

Grant Wood, American Gothic. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 1998

Price: 32-mint single 

Fun fact: American Gothic has often been understood as a satirical commentary on Midwestern character—but Wood always intended it to serve as a positive statement about rural American values. The stamp designer’s crop cuts out the high point of the structure’s roof and the farmer’s hand gripping the rake.

 

Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth, <i>Christina's World</i>. ©United States Postal Service

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2017

Price: Forever stamp

Fun fact: This stamp, which features Christina’s World, was one of a series of 12 picturing work by the American artist released to commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday. According to Wyeth’s son, artist Jamie Wyeth, the painter was a prolific letter-writer himself.

 

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock Abstract Expressionism. ©United States Postal Service

Jackson Pollock Abstract Expressionism. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 1999

Price: 33-cent single

Fun fact: Designers edited out the cigarette that was perpetually dangling from Pollock’s mouth as he worked because the USPS forbids any depiction of smoking on its products. But many people criticized the decision, saying the stamp was no longer a true illustration of the artist.

 

Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden Forever stamps. ©United States Postal Service

Romare Bearden Forever stamp. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2011

Price: Forever stamps

Fun fact: Four of Bearden’s collage works—Conjunction, Poseidon, Falling Star, and Conjur Woman—were issued on stamps to commemorate his life and accomplishments. The unveiling, at the Schomburg Center in New York in 2011, was one of many ceremonies around the city that marked the centennial of the artist’s birth. 

 

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly's Forever Stamps. ©United States Postal Service

Ellsworth Kelly’s Forever Stamps. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2019

Price: Issued as Forever stamps

Fun fact: When he first returned to New York City from France in 1954, Ellsworth Kelly worked nights sorting mail at the USPS. He filled notebooks with sketches of envelope shapes and folds, which served as “already-made” sources for his abstract painting compositions.

 

Mary Cassatt 

Mary Cassatt, <i>Breakfast in Bed</i>. ©United States Postal Service

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 1998

Price: 32-cent single

Fun fact: Cassatt, whose work focused extensively on themes of motherhood, has been featured on many US stamps. Postal service art director Derry Noyes, who designed some of them, has said her subject matter was particularly well suited to the medium: “Women and children, they just worked so well together.”

 

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, <i>Self Portrait</i> (1964). ©United States Postal Service

Andy Warhol, Self Portrait (1964). ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2002

Price: 37 cents

Fun fact: The Pop artist created this self-portrait by rendering a photo-booth picture in silkscreen ink and synthetic polymer on canvas. The original is now part of the Warhol Museum’s collection in Pittsburgh. The stamp’s official unveiling ceremony was held at the Andy Warhol Museum.

 

Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi, <i>Mother and Child</i> ©United States Postal Service

Isamu Noguchi, Mother and Child ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2004

Price: 37 cents

Fun fact: Maternity is also the focus of Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture, Mother and Child. The work, made of onyx, is located in the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in New York. It is 60 inches tall, so only the top part was used on the stamp. The Noguchi stamp stands out as the rare black-and-white example.

 

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, <i>Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.</i> ©United States Postal Service

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 2013

Price: Issued as Forever stamps 

Fun fact: Duchamp’s painting, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, was one of the influential works by 12 American artists that were honored in 2013 by the Postal Service and the Armory Show with the dedication of the Modern Art in America, 1913—1931 stamps. The ceremony took place 100 years after the first Armory Show, a groundbreaking international exhibition which offered many a first look at Modern art.

 

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder stamps. ©United States Postal Service

Alexander Calder stamps. ©United States Postal Service

Issued: 1998

Price: 32 cents

Fun fact: Calder began his career making illustrations for the National Police Gazette in 1924; by 1976, one of his major mobile-stabiles was on view in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC. The postal service commemorated the artist’s work in 1998 with a series of five stamps, including these, featuring Portrait of a Young Man (1945) and Rearing Stallion (1928).


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