Harlem Renaissance, a blossoming (c. 1918–37) of African American culture, particularly in the creative arts, and the most influential movement in African-American literary history. Embracing literary, musical, theatrical, and visual arts, participants sought to reconceptualize “the Negro” apart from the White stereotypes that had influenced Black peoples’ relationship to their heritage and to each other. They also sought to break free of Victorian moral values and bourgeois shame about aspects of their lives that might, as seen by Whites, reinforce racist beliefs. Never dominated by a particular school of thought but rather characterized by intense debate, the movement laid the groundwork for all later African- American literature and had an enormous impact on subsequent Black literature and consciousness worldwide. While the renaissance was not confined to the Harlem district of New York City, Harlem attracted a remarkable concentration of intellect and talent and served as the symbolic capital of this cultural awakening.   Short history of the Harlem Renaissance

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Short history of the Harlem Renaissance
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The Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Stamps

         On May 21, the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections collaborated with the American Philatelic Society for a live Zoom release of the U. S. Postal Service's Voices of the Harlem Renaissance commemorative Forever stamps. The pane of stamps celebrates the lives and legacies of four of the literary movement's greatest voices: novelist Nella Larsen, educator Alain Locke, historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, and poet Anne Spencer.  The Voices of the Harlem Renaissance stamps feature stylized pastel portraits based on historic photographs. Each stamp also incorporates African-inspired motifs as background elements. Participants in the event were stamp artist Gary Kelley; United States Postal Service acting Director of Stamp Services, William Gicker; Warachal E. Faison, MD and Walter Faison, Jr. of ESPER; and American Philatelic Society Executive Director, Scott English. 

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How do you capture the spirit of a movement?

If someone asked you to imagine a portrait, a realistic likeness of a person would probably come to mind. But for stamp artist Gary Kelley, the form offers more than just a chance to recreate how someone looks. “I'm capable of doing a portrait that looks almost like a photograph,” he says. “But to me, that’s not nearly as exciting.” For the Voices of the Harlem Renaissance stamps, Kelley chose to weave traditional African designs into his portraits, sifting through an incredible number of patterns — 378, to be exact — to find the right motifs. What was he looking for? Patterns that would, as he puts it, “collaborate” or “be friendly” with the features of each literary figure, from the curls of Anne Spencer’s hair to the angles of Arturo Schomburg’s necktie.

But beyond these small harmonies, Kelley’s inclusion of the patterns was his answer to a larger challenge: to capture the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the greatest artistic and literary movements in American history. Far better than straightforward portraits, or even those shown against a Harlem cityscape, Kelley says, the stamps represent a movement that was defined by art — and by an interest in African culture, history, and aesthetics. Each pattern, in other words, is much more than a backdrop for each portrait. “It’s also a story,” Kelley says. “It gives you something to think about.” 

Gary also illustrated stamps for Hollywood directors, Oscar Micheaux and Gospel Singers