The U.S. Postal Service continued its tradition of celebrating Kwanzaa by dedicating a new Kwanzaa Forever stamp. The First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony took place in Marion Square in Charleston, N.C. at the MOJA Art Festival celebrating African-American and Caribbean arts.
Kwanzaa, an annual non-religious holiday taking place over seven days from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, brings family, community and culture together for many African Americans. This year, Dec. 26 marks the 50th anniversary of the widely celebrated holiday.
The public is asked to share the news using the hashtag #KwanzaaStamps.
“Kwanzaa celebrations reflect some of the core values of African culture,” said U.S. Postal Service Deputy Postmaster General and Chief Government Relations Officer Ronald Stroman. “The stamp’s bold colors depict a young African-American woman as the embodiment of Africa, with her dress collar and matching earring featuring an African design. The image shows her holding a large purple bowl overflowing with fruits and vegetables, symbolizing the abundance of African first harvest celebrations that inspired the creation of Kwanzaa,” Stroman added, referring to the work of stamp artist Synthia Saint James.
“It was an amazing honor to be called on again, especially since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kwanzaa holiday. But to be the artist commissioned to create the painting for the first Kwanzaa Commemorate Stamp 20 years ago was incredible! The First Day of Issue was in Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum on October 22, 1997,” said Saint James.
Growing up in New York and Los Angeles, Saint James always knew she wanted to be an artist. Self-taught, she developed an artistic style that is uniquely and recognizably her own.
Saint James sold her first painting at age 20—a commissioned piece for a coworker—which helped launch her artistic career. A professional artist for more than 45 years, she has worked with clients such as Barnes and Noble, Maybelline, UNICEF, Essence magazine, and The Coca-Cola Company, among others.
Many may not know that my first Kwanzaa Stamp had a very long life. First as a 32 cents stamp, then a 33, 34 and 37 cents stamp before being retired. Even more amazing is that the total number of stamps printed, of all the stamps just mentioned, equaled 318 million.
“For me, Kwanzaa is very important, because of the seven principles which I feel can be utilized daily in the way we live our lives, and they are a wonderful guide for children as well as adults,” said Saint James. “My favorite principles are ‘Self-Determination’ and ‘Creativity’. But what I also hold dear about Kwanzaa is that it teaches us all pride in our African heritage, out roots.
“I am inspired by everything, and I liken myself to a sponge. Music, nature, people, books, films, plays, cultures of the world, and history are examples of the things that inspire me.
“Since I was five years old I knew that I wanted to be a visual artist. What I didn’t know was that The Creator had gifted me with this aspiration and (I feel) mission in life that I honor, and in so doing I accept the responsibility of sharing that comes with the gift.”
Synthia Saint James’ work can be seen on the Metro Train (Expo Line) that was commissioned by AARP. Other places include a 4×7 foot mural in Cowan Elementary School’s Library, in Westchester, a 2’8″x 150 foot ceramic tile mural in the International Baggage Claim, Terminal A, at the Ontario, Ca International Airport, a 3×6 foot painting on the fifth floor of Glendale Memorial Hospital, and two large fine art reproductions grace the walls of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, in Los Angeles. The public can also visit the Museum of African American Art – Los Angeles, on the third floor of Macy’s (Baldwin Hills), for limited edition prints and signed posters.
Saint James created the original cover art for Terry McMillan’s novel Waiting to Exhale and has illustrated and/or authored 17 children’s books. Her work has been exhibited internationally and has appeared in several United States embassies around the world.
Created in 1966, Kwanzaa draws on African traditions, deriving its name from the phrase “first fruits” in Swahili, a widely spoken African language. It has its origins in celebrations that occurred across the African continent in ancient and modern times. Kwanzaa synthesizes and reinvents these traditions as a contemporary celebration of African-American culture.
Each year, millions of African-Americans gather with friends and family around a table set with the mkeka – a straw mat symbolizing the history of African-Americans. They light seven candles known as the mishumaa saba, and share in a feast that celebrates their common heritage. Kwanzaa is a festive occasion to rejoice in the prospect of health, prosperity and good luck in the coming year, while also recalling the past and its role in future happiness.