African-American Stamp Artists
George Olden was born November 13, 1920, in Birmingham, Alabama. He attended Dunbar High School in Washington, D. C. and nearby Virginia State College before dropping out shortly after Pearl Harbor to work as a graphic designer for the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA. When the war ended in 1945, his OSS supervisor recommended him to the agency’s communications director, Colonel Lawrence W. Lowman, who in civilian life was vice president of CBS’s TV division. Olden developed the “eye” for CBS. From a one-man operation involved with six programs a week, Olden eventually headed a staff of 14 in charge of 60 weekly shows. When he joined the network in 1945, there were 16,000 TV sets in the entire U. S. By the time he left in 1960, there were 85 million sets, one for every two Americans. Olden might have rested comfortably at CBS, but he soldiered on in corporate America, surmounting obstacles that barred many other people of color from advancement, despite the efforts of the civil rights movement. In 1960, he took a job as television group art director at the advertising agency BBDO. In 1963, he joined an elite department within the ad agency McCann-Erickson. That year, he became the first African American to design a postage stamp—a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation stamp was issued August 16, 1963. Olden also designed the 5-cent stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Voice of America which was issued on August 1, 1967, at the HEW Auditorium in Washington, D.C. Georg Olden died January 25, 1975.
Jerry Pinkney was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1939 and began drawing at the age of four. As a child, he had great difficulty with dyslexia in elementary school. However, his love of and talent for drawing was useful in elevating his self-esteem and gaining the attention of his teachers and fellow classmates. In junior high school his work was noticed by cartoonist John Liney, who encouraged him to pursue the career of an artist. Pinkney began his career in the art department of a Boston greeting card company but soon became acquainted with the publishing industry, which sought and nurtured his work. Celebrated for his luminous narrative paintings that provide historical accuracy, he has received a Caldecott Honor citation five times, the Coretta Scott King Award five times, four New York Times Best IllustratedAwards , four Gold and four Silver medals from the Society of Illustrators, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. In 2000, he was given the Virginia Hamilton Literary award from Kent State University, and in 2004, the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for outstanding contributions in the field of children’s literature; Pickney is the illustrator of more than 80 children’s books. He also has created images for such diverse clients as Time, National Geographic, NASA, the Franklin Mint, The National Parks Service, and General Mills. His United States postage stamps designs include the earliest issues of the Black Heritage series celebrating African-American achievement: Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Banneker, Whitney Moore Young, Jackie Robinson, Scott Joplin, Carter G. Woodson, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Sojourner Truth. Pinkney typically included a second element in his designs to provide historical context. A member of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee from 1982 to 1992, he has also served on the U. S. Postal Service Quality Assurance Committee
Jan E. Matzeliger
A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Barbara Higgins Bond earned her bachelor of fine arts from Memphis College of Art. A versatile artist whose work has attracted national attention, Higgins Bond (as she’s known professionally) has been an illustrator and commercial artist for close to 40 years. Her images have appeared in children’s books and on magazine and book covers, posters, album covers, and collectors’ plated created for such prominent clients as Anheuser-Busch, McGraw-Hill, Essence magazine, the Franklin Mint, The Bradford Exchange, NBC, Hennessy Cognac, Frito-Lay, and Columbia House. She also is an adjunct professor of illustration at the Nossi College of Art in Nashville, where she lives. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Du Sable Museum of African-American History have exhibited her work. She has received prestigious honors including a medal of honor from then-Governor Bill Clinton. The first African-American female to illustrate a United States postage stamp, she has created outstanding designs for three Black Heritage issues: Jan E. Matzeliger, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Percy Lavon Julian. She also has illustrated four stamps for the United Nations Postal Administration. Higgins Bond was the keynote speaker at ESPER's 25th anniversay in 2013.
THOMAS BLACKSHEAR II
Award-winning artist Thomas Blackshear II began his career as an artist for the Hallmark Card Company. His beautifully crafted images have appeared in books, magazines, calendars, posters, and advertisements, commissioned by such clients as Coca-Cola, Coors, Jim Henson Studios, George Lucas, Universal Studios, and Milton Bradley. He has designed many stamps for the United States Postal Service including Black Heritage issues: Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable, James Weldon Johnson, A. Philip Randolph, and Ida B. Wells. Additionally, he did the artwork for the following stamps: Joe Louis; James Baldwin; Jelly Roll Morton, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, and Thelonious Monk for the Jazz Musicians. He also illustrated stamps honoring James Cagney; The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Beau Geste, and Stagecoach for the Classic Hollywood Movies series; Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, and Wolfman for the Classic Movie Monsters; the Mother Theresa stamp; and most recently, the Rosa Parks stamp issued in 2013. In 1991, Blackshear was commissioned by the United States Postal Service to illustrate 28 portraits that appear in a book called I Have A Dream (A Collection of Black Americans on U. S. Postage Stamps). Today, this is a sought after collectable item in the philatelic world.
Gifted realist painter Dean Mitchell began his experiments with paint when his grandmother gave him a paint-by-number set and encouraged him to explore his talent. After graduating from the Columbus College of Art, he worked as an illustrator for Hallmark and painted to satisfy the need for a more personal form of expression. He exhibited his works widely, and as his success mounted, he embarked on a career as a full-time painter. Since then, his masterful portraits, landscapes, and still-life paintings have received many professional honors and are included in the permanent collections of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Xerox Corporation, and the Greenwich Workshop among others. His United States postage stamp designs include Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Erroll Garner for the Jazz Musicians and the Kansas sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) stamp issued in 2011.
SYNTHIA SAINT JAMES
Self-taught artist and author Synthia Saint James was born in 1949 in Los Angeles, California. Her professional career as an artist began in 1969 in New York City, where she sold her first commissioned paintings. Today, she is an internationally recognized fine artist, award winning author and/or illustrator of 17 children’s books, author of an autobiographical art marketing book, three poetry books, a book of affirmations, and a cookbook. She is most celebrated for designing the first Kwanzaa stamp for the United States Postal Service in 1997 (design also used in 1999, 2001, and 2002 with denomination changes), for which she received a History Maker Award, and for the international cover art for Terry McMillan’s book Waiting to Exhale. She also is a popular keynote speaker and architectural designer who has garnered numerous awards over her forty-plus year career, including the prestigious Trumpet Award, an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Saint Augustine’s College, NAWBO-L.A.’s Hall of Fame Inductee Award, Women Who Dared Award, and her book Living My Dream: An Artistic Approach to Marketing was nominated for the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work-Instructional. Most recently, Synthia Saint James has done the 2016 Kwanzaa stamp.
Daniel Minter was born in the small rural community of Ellaville, Georgia, in 1963. He began working in 1980 as a painter, illustrator, and computer graphics artist. He has illustrated nine children’s books, including Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, winner of a Best Book Award from the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, and The Riches of Oseola McCarty, named an Honor Book by the Carter G. Woodson Awards. Minter’s paintings and sculptures have been exhibited both nationally and internationally at galleries and museums including the Seattle Art Museum, the Tacoma Art Museum, Bates College, Hammonds House Museum, and the Meridian International Center. Minter is the founding director and vice-president of Maine Freedom Trails, Inc. He created the markers for the Portland Freedom Trail, which identifies significant sites related to the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad in Portland, Maine. He created the 2004 Kwanzaa stamp (design also used in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 with denomination changes) and the 2011 Kwanzaa stamp for the U. S. Postal Service. Minter lives in Portland, Maine, with his wife Marcia and son Azari Ayindé.
Kadir Nelson is an award-winning artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Nelson was born in Washington D.C., grew up in New Jersey, attended Crawford High School in San Diego, California, earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and has since created paintings for a host of distinguished clients including Sports Illustrated, The Coca-Cola Company, Major League Baseball, and Dreamworks SKG where he worked as a visual development artist creating concept artwork for feature films Amistad and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. Many of Nelson’s paintings are in the collections of notable institutions and public collections, including the U. S. House of Representatives and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as in the private collections of actors, professional athletes, and musicians. Nelson has also gained acclaim for the artwork he has contributed to several NYT Best-selling picture books including his authorial debut, WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball, winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, and was published by Disney/Hyperion in the spring of 2008. Currently, Nelson’s cover artwork is featured on the album MICHAEL, by the late pop singer icon Michael Jackson, Jackson’s first posthumous album release. Nelson’s upcoming literary effort is HEART AND SOUL: The Story of America and African-Americans. Kadir Nelson has illustrated twelve stamps for the United States Postal Service: Anna Julia Cooper; Richard Wright; the se-tenant stamps honoring Negro League Baseball and Rube Foster; the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star stamps which honor Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Willie Stargell, and Ted Williams; Althea Gibson; Ralph Ellison; and Wilt Chamberlain (Lakers and Philadelphia uniforms).
Lloyd McNeill, born in Washington, D. C., is a Jazz flutist and visual artist currently based in New York City. Having studied Art and Zoology in Morehouse College, Atlanta, he moved on to be the first recipient of Howard University's MFA degree in 1963. In 1964-5, he did further study in lithography at Paris' L'Ecole Nationale Des Beaux Arts. During his residence in France, he spent a considerable amount of time with Pablo Picasso and his wife, Jacqueline, in Cannes. He has also studied music composition privately with the composer Hale Smith, music theory and flute technique with the jazz musician Eric Dolphy, and classical flute technique and repertoire with Harold Jones. McNeill taught at several institutes of higher education and is Professor Emeritus of Mason Gross School of the Arts, at Rutgers University, New Jersey, having retired in 2001. Through the 1970s, and in addition to his position in Art, McNeill also taught Afro-American Music History, gave private flute lessons, and was instrumental in launching the Jazz Studies Program at Rutgers University. McNeill has exhibited his paintings and drawings at several galleries and colleges in the U. S. Northeast. He published two volumes of poems -- Blackline: A Collection of Poems, Drawings and Photographs and After the Rain: A Collection of New Poems. In 2007, Lloyd McNeill was chosen by the USPS to design a postage stamp for the celebration of Kwanzaa 2009.
A New York-based designer, writer, and teacher at the School of Visual Arts, Gail Anderson developed her trademark whimsical style while working at Rolling Stone magazine for more than fourteen years. She has created eye-catching magazine spreads, and poster art for Broadway shows such as Avenue Q, and has co-authored several books on typography and design, including New Vintage Type and Found Type. Andersonhas won many awards for her outstanding work, including the American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal for Lifetime Achievement (2008) and the Richard Gangel Art Director Award from the Society of Illustrators (2009). Art director Antonio Alcalá worked with Anderson to produce the 2013 Emancipation Proclamation stamp. To evoke the look of broadsides from the Civil War era, they employed Hatch Show Print of Nashville, Tennessee, one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America. This important commemorative stamp is one in a civil rights set issued in 2013. The other stamps commemorate Rosa Parks and the 1963 March on Washington. Since April 2013, Gail Anderson also has been a member of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, the professionals who meet at the invitation of the Postmaster General to select the subjects that appear on stamps. With backgrounds in business, sports, entertainment, and other areas, these culture-shapers field the 50,000 suggestions from the public each year — and bring their own ideas to the table, too.
R. GREGORY CHRISTIE
Illustrator and freelance artist Richard Gregory Christie was born on July 26, 1971 in Plainfield, New Jersey. He attended St. Barthol-omew the Apostle Elementary School where he demonstrated a talent for art early on. In 1985, Christie worked for Commercial Art and Supply while he attended Fanwood High School. Graduating in 1989, he enrolled in New York City’s School for Visual Arts (SVA). His first illustration was published by The Star Ledger in the summer of 1990. In 1993, Christie graduated from SVA with his B.F.A. degree. In 1994, Christie illustrated the album cover of Justice System’s Summer in the City. Soon, his work graced the covers of jazz labels from all over the world, including Joe Sample’s Old Places Old Faces; George Benson’s A Song for my Brother; and Coltrane The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. Christie’s’ illustrations also appeared in numerous publications in Europe, Asia, and America. In 1996, he illustrated Lucille Clifton’s The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children. The book won a Coretta Scott King Award honor from the American Library Association and a Reading Magic Award from Parenting magazine. Christie has illustrated the biographies of many other significant historical and cultural figures, including Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Sojourner Truth. In 2006, he won a Coretta Scott King Award honor for Brothers in Hope : The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and for illustrating Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth. Currently, Christie is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine. Christie is the artist for the Kwanzaa stamp issued in 2013.
Floyd Cooper, author and illustrator has over 60 published children's books, more than 2000 book cover illustrations, and has many clients including: Budweiser, Hallmark Cards, Avon, Land-O-Lakes, Time-Life, Black Enterprise, Hasbro, McGraw-Hill, Harcourt and Highlights for Children. Notwithstanding his 3 Coretta Scott King Awards, 10 ALA Notable NAACP Image Awards, and many more, Floyd's mission to "give kids a positive alternative to counteract the negative impact of what is conveyed in today's media", is most admirable. At age three, Floyd Cooper began drawing on pieces of plasterboard left over from his father's work as a builder. He drew constantly after that, even on his math and reading worksheets in school. After getting his college degree in fine art, Cooper got a job creating art for a greeting card company. But he dreamed of being an illustrator in New York City, and, with the encouragement of the artist Mark English, he moved there. After some rejections, he got a book manuscript to illustrate. Only later did cooper find out that the book, Grandpa's Face, was written by Eloise Greenfield, a well-known children's writer. Cooper's illustrations brought him notoriety that has continued today. The technique Cooper uses is called oil wash on board. He paints an illustration board with oil print, and then with a stretchy eraser, he erases the paint to make a picture. He calls this method of painting a "substractive process", which renders his illustrations easily recognizable to any fan. Floyd Cooper says, "My personal goal is to take the reader on a journey into the story, to get a sense of smells, the atmosphere, and the emotions conveyed by the characters." Floyd Cooper designed the seventh stamp design issued by the U. S. Postal Service in celebration of Kwanzaa, issued in 2018.
Charles Chaisson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and currently is a Brooklynbased freelance illustrator. He studied at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida (2006-2010) where he received his BFA. in Illustration. Upon completion of college, he moved to New York to further his education at the School of Visual Arts (2010-2012) where he received an MFA in Illustration from the Visual Essay Graduate Program. Charles’s illustration incorporate themes of fantasy juxtaposed with reality. His use of bold and pastel colors and composition add towards his conceptual and narrative work. Since September 20, 2020, Chaisson has been a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
His self description on social media: Queer. Visual Artist. Vegan. Lover of equity, nature, surrealism, science fiction, politics, social activism and dancing. Brooklyn, New York via New Orleans.
Some of Chaisson’s artwork is shown below. Curiously, there are stamp connections. For more information and images of Chaisson’s artwork, visit richardsolomon.com/artists/charles-chaisson/
Charles designed the Yogi Berra Commemoratie forever stamp issued by the U. S. Postal Service issued in 2021.