Maya Angelou Immortalized by Postal Service With Photorealistic Portrait

Ross Rossin, Dr. Maya Angelou Forever Stamp. Photo: © 2015 U.S. Postal Service.
Ross Rossin, Dr. Maya Angelou Forever Stamp. Photo ©2015 US Postal Service.

The newest stamp from the US Postal Service may appear to be a simple photograph of author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, but the image is actually a photorealistic painting by Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin.

Angelou, who died in 2014 at age 86, is best known for her autobiographical book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In addition to her portrait, the stamp features a short quote from Angelou’s book Letter to My Daughter.

Rossin painted the author in 2013, on the occasion of her 85th birthday party, which was hosted by Oprah Winfrey.

“I always wanted to paint Maya as she was a voice that inspired millions—not just as an individual, but as a legendary poet and a civil rights icon who transcended generations,” said Rossin in a statement. “I was compelled by the challenge to portray her forgiving smile and her aura of unconditional love and understanding that comes across when having a conversation with her.”

The original oil-on-canvas work is part of the collection at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, where it will be on view through the first of November.

While it’s easy to marvel at the level of realism Rossin is able to achieve in his paintings, he doesn’t classify his work as photorealism. “My paintings don’t look like photographs; photographs look like my paintings,” Rossin insists. “The objective of my art is to transcend hyperrealism.”

Upon seeing the finished product, Rossin says that Angelou told him: “This is exactly how I see myself and exactly how I wish to be remembered.”

The Forever Stamp, designed by Bethesda, Maryland, art director Ethel Kessler, will be released on April 7, with a public First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremony scheduled to be held at 11 a.m. at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC. The Postal Service is promoting the stamp with a #MayaForever social media campaign.

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