SITKA, Alaska (AP) —
A depiction of Raven freeing the sun, stars and moon will appear on U.S. Postal Service Forever stamps in the near future thanks to a Juneau-based Tlingit artist, the Sealaska Heritage Institute has announced.
Rico Lanáat’ Worl, a Tlingit/Athabascan artist and social designer, works alongside SHI with the aim of empowering indigenous artists, a Sealaska press release said. He has engaged in creative and artistic activities for his entire life, Worl told the Sentinel today.
“Art is kind of integral to indigenous culture. It has always been around me, it’s always been integral to my life… I’ve always been involved in being creative,” Worl said.
He was excited to be selected to work on a project with the Postal Service.
“There is a lot of movement in this country and the world towards making space for people of color to represent their own stories… and I think this is a very big platform for that to be able to be seen in that way, so it’s exciting,” Worl said.
The artwork for the stamp includes Raven flanked by stars as he makes his escape from a clan house.
“It’s more focused on this exciting moment of trying to pull off this heist. And I wanted to show some of that drama and excitement from the story,” Worl said.
A new Forever Stamp features a formline design. (Photo provided by Sealaska)
He noted that most versions of the story focus on the sun and moon, whereas his depiction highlights the stars, which glitter around Raven and on his feathers on the stamp.
“The stamp depicts a moment of climax in one of his heists. Stealing the stars. Raven is trying to grab as many stars as he can, some stuck in his feathers and in his hands or in his beak. Some falling around him. It’s a frazzled moment of adrenaline. Partially still in human form, as depicted as his hand still being human, as he carries the stars away. I think it depicts a moment we all have experienced, the cusp of failure and accomplishment,” Worl wrote on his blog, ricoworl.com on Saturday.
Worl told the Sentinel that he selected this particular Tlingit story to serve as a gateway for people around the United States.
“I hope it’s sort of a gateway for more learning. I hope that they wonder, ‘Oh, what does this design mean? Where does it come from?’ And they look up the title of it and find the Raven story and then look, ‘What is the Raven story? Who are the Tlingit people?’” he said.
The Raven story serves as a foundational story for Tlingit people, which is why Worl said he chose it.
“Because it was a national platform, I wanted to be able to give a good access point for a non-Tlingit audience to be able to learn about the culture. And that story is a foundational story for a lot of Tlingit ideology and ways of being. And that’s how I selected the story,” Worl said.
This marks the first time that a stamp will bear a Tlingit art design by a Tlingit artist, SHI said, but in 1996 a USPS stamp depicted Worl’s clan uncle Nathan Jackson performing a Raven dance.
“Although Tlingit art has been represented, this is the first time a Tlingit designer has been able to present a Tlingit story on a stamp,” Worl said.
This particular stamp involved collaboration between Worl and USPS Art Director Antonio Alcalá, according to both Worl and a USPS news release.
“(Alcalá) ran across my artwork in the National Museum of the American Indian and he thought it lined up with some values that the USPS was trying to achieve with their stamps,” Worl said.
No date has been set for the release of the stamp, Worl said, but it should come out in 2021. Worl’s stamp will enter circulation with other stamp designs covering topics from the Day of the Dead to Japanese American Soldiers of World War II, the USPS site says.
The Raven stamp was scheduled for release alongside the Tlingit Celebration in Juneau in June, but the pandemic forced a postponement of the event, Sealaska said in their release.
Worl added that he hopes to create additional art in partnership with USPS.
“I do hope to create prints, pins, and other associated gifts with the design if I can get a license worked out with USPS. I hope to launch those products at the same time as the stamp launch,” he wrote on his blog.