Renowned artist Synthia Saint James has created a new Kwanzaa stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. The new Kwanzaa stamp issued on October 1, 2016 is called "Abundance," and is currently available online and at local post offices. This Kwanzaa stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp, one that will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.
This is the second time that Saint James has created a Kwanzaa stamp for the postal service and it is befitting that the Postal Service tapped Saint James to create the new stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa. "Kwanzaa celebrations focus on the importance of family, community, and culture," said, Ronald Stroman, U.S. Postal Service Deputy Postmaster General and Chief Government Relations Officer. "The United States Postal Service is happy to continue its tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa." Established in 1966, Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration honoring African first-harvest traditions and culture.
The first Saint James Kwanzaa stamp was created and issued in 1977. That stamp depicted a family of African descent and sold over 133 million stamps. While the Postal Service has said that usage of snail mail has declined with the popularity of text and email, they are betting on the beauty of "Abundance," printing an initial run of 15 million stamps. I had the opportunity to sit down with Saint James and discuss the creation of "Abundance."
HP: It's 20 years later and you've created a new Kwanzaa Stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. Congratulations. What does that feel like for you?
SSJ: It feels amazing. Over the years, people have always asked if I was going to create a new Kwanzaa stamp. It's exciting for me because I teach at different colleges/universities and my students will get to see my design, one that they can actually hold in their hands. Most of them were not born when the first Kwanzaa stamp was released so I'm excited about that.
HP: The dedication of the first issue of "Abundance" was held at the MOJA Arts Festival in Charleston, SC., on October 1, 2016. Any significance to choosing October 1st as the date for first issue?
SSJ: Yes - October 1st was heritage day. This is also the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa (December 2016).
HP: The new stamp is called Abundance. What was the inspiration behind your design of "Abundance"?
SSJ: In my first Kwanzaa stamp, I highlighted the sixth day of Kwanzaa - the celebration of Kuumba' creativity and the Kwanzaa feast. The emphasis of this stamp is abundance which symbolizes the first day, the first fruits. The stamp features a Black woman holding a large bowl filled with fruits, and vegetables; celebrating the first fall harvest and the abundance of both the spiritual and the material in our lives. I also created a painting called "Abundance." In my painting, the fruits and vegetables, especially the grapes are overflowing in the bowl and you really get the feel of a bountiful harvest.
HP: Your signature use of vibrant colors can be seen in "Abundance." What was the process like for you in choosing the colors, deciding on the design?
SSJ: I wanted to create a stamp that was completely different from the first Kwanzaa stamp. The first Kwanzaa stamp featured a family and seven candles symbolic of the seven Kwanzaa principles. My mindset when painting "Abundance" was the finding a perfect symbol that reflects abundance in our communities, and in our families. I wanted to illustrate fullness. I chose a woman whose appearance reflected abundance. I made her earrings large, her hair flows down her back, she has on vibrant colors, and the neckline of her dress speaks of fullness. This woman reflects nurture of family, of her community, and the abundance of life. I also thought about the importance of what I was commissioned to do and how I could bring that out through the use of colors.
HP: Looking back on your experience in creating the first Kwanzaa stamp, what advice would you give to your younger artistic self - the artist that created the first Kwanzaa stamp based on what you know now?
SSJ: I have always tried to paint from my heart, what I envision and not think about how others will receive it. I would affirm that to my younger self. You always hope that your painting speaks to others but when I'm painting, I don't let the thought of what others might think influence me. What you see on the canvas reflects my vision, my thoughts, and what I really want to illustrate.
HP: Living a full, abundant life speaks to everybody. Is that what you hope the stamp conveys?
SSJ: Yes - it's my hope that when people look at the stamp, they will see and feel abundance. Can't you feel it?
HP: I do...absolutely...I do.