Last Day of Letter Writing Month

Happy Leap Day, everyone! We all had such a blast participating in the Month of Letters Challenge throughout this elongated February and hope you did, too. For the last letter of the month, we’re sending all of you a collective thank you for your participation.We sent and received so much mail this month, and found we interacted in ways—and with people—we never expected.

What were some of your highlights from this Month of Letters? Were you surprised by how easy/difficult it was to write so many letters? We want to hear your stories!

We’ll be (not so) patiently waiting for next February to do it all over again!

Posted in Month of Letters Challenge | Tagged , , Month of Letters Challenge, note, thank you, Vanishing Species semipostal,

Carmel Mission Express Mail Stamp Available Today

The U.S. Postal Service is proud to issue the Carmel Mission Express Mail stamp today, honoring the historic Carmel Mission in Carmel, California—a landmark of the state’s Spanish heritage.

Formally known as Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo, it was founded on June 3, 1770. It was the second in what would become a chain of 21 Spanish missions along the coast of California, each positioned about one day’s ride on horseback from the next. Established by Spain in an attempt to colonize its territories in Alta or Upper California, the missions were run by Franciscan friars. The friars converted local Native Americans to Catholicism and taught them trades related to ranching and farming. They also instructed their charges in music, fine arts, and the Spanish language. Indian converts, or neophytes, spent their working hours herding cattle and growing European crops such as wheat. European contact ultimately proved disastrous for the California natives, as they had little resistance to smallpox, measles, and other devastating diseases the colonists brought with them.

First Day Cover (click to order)

The Mission era ended sooner than its founders intended. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the missions suddenly stood on foreign soil. Starting in 1833, the Mexican government began secularizing the missions and stripping them of their land. Most of the mission buildings were soon abandoned, but the mission system’s brief heyday left a lasting imprint on the art, literature, music, industries, and language of California. Distinctive elements in the state’s architecture, such as red-tiled roofs and floors, running arcades and archways, and exposed wooden beams, can all be traced back to the Mission era.

Often described as one of the most beautiful mission churches in California, Carmel Mission is known for its dome-shaped bell tower and the elaborate star-shaped window that adorns its façade. Unlike most mission buildings, which were commonly built from adobe bricks, the walls of the church were constructed from sandstone and date back to 1797. In 1931, Harry Downie, a leading authority on mission architecture, began a painstaking restoration. Carmel is now considered one of the most authentic missions in the state.

Designed by art director Phil Jordan, the stamp features an illustration created by artist Dan Cosgrove. The Carmel Mission Express Mail stamps are being issued in self-adhesive sheets of 10 at the $18.95 rate, or $189.50 per sheet.

Posted in Architecture, History, Stamp Issuances | Tagged architecture, California, Carmel Mission, Catholicism, church, colonization, Express Mail, mission, Native Americans, Spain

Sunshine Skyway Bridge Priority Mail Stamps Available Today

Today the U.S. Postal Service honors one of the first major concrete-and-steel, cable-stayed bridges in the United States—the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida. Completed in 1987, the main bridge and approach spans stretch more than four miles across Tampa Bay and link the Gulf Coast communities surrounding St. Petersburg and Bradenton.

First Day Cover (click to order)

Setting new standards for technical innovation and aesthetics, the structural design is considered by many to be a modern masterpiece. Renamed in 2005 after the former governor who envisioned its construction, the Bob Graham/Sunshine Skyway Bridge has been the recipient of dozens of engineering and design awards, including the Presidential Design Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A structural icon for the state of Florida, the bridge is also popular with sightseers. The Travel Channel ranked it third of ten top bridges in the world.

Prepaid Envelope & First Day Cover (click to order)

Developed with particular attention to safety, the cable-stayed section of the bridge soars more than 190 feet above the water, allowing unhindered navigation to and from the busy port of Tampa. Other safety features include large concrete bumpers designed to stop off-course ships from making contact with the bridge, and pylons built to withstand the impact of million-pound ships. The bridge was also designed to sustain wind gusts up to 290 mph.

The 1,200-foot long precast main span of the bridge is supported by two pylons. Twenty-one cables run across each pylon, from one side to the other. To many people, the brilliant yellow cables look like sails and their two supporting pylons like masts rising from the water. From the bridge, motorists enjoy an unobstructed view of the water stretching out along the bay. At night, the lighted cables produce a dazzling sight.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge Priority Mail stamp is being issued in self-adhesive sheets of 20 at the $5.15 rate, or $103.00 per sheet.

Romare Bearden Told Stories Through Mixed Media Collages

One of the things I admire most about Romare Bearden’s work is the way he tells a story using a lively interplay of art materials. Consider “Conjunction,” a collage he created in 1971, and one of four artworks featured on a set of stamps issued in 2011. The scene is drawn from Bearden’s memories of growing up in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He uses the collage medium to tell us two important things about the culture of his childhood. The subject of the collage is the significance of community and sharing; the “conjunction” of people when they greet one another and come together for conversation. In this collage, Bearden worked with charcoal and crayon—traditional art materials—and fabric remnants.

Romare Bearden Cultural Diary Page (click to order)

He builds form and gives shape to the figures with these vibrantly colored swatches of fabric, alluding directly to the quilting tradition practiced by his family and neighbors. It’s the juxtaposition of varied color and patterns in the cloth that enlivens the composition. There’s enough going on in Bearden’s collages to keep the eye active and interested. In fact, when looking at his art, I’m in awe of the way he pulls together common materials such as fabric, foil, and cardboard—things I’d just as easily toss in a wastebasket—to create vivid tableaux telling stories of human interaction and complex emotion.

Through March 11, 2012, you can see works by Romare Bearden in New York City at the Studio Museum in Harlem. “The Bearden Project” is a tribute exhibition organized to coincide with the artist’s centennial year. For more information, visit the Studio Museum’s web site.

Art © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Photograph © Frank Stewart/Black Light Productions

Hattie McDaniel Wows the Audience of the 13th Annual Academy Awards

On February 29, 1940, Hattie McDaniel—the Postal Service’s 2006 Black Heritage subject—made history by becoming the first African American to receive an Oscar. In fact, she was the first African American ever to be nominated for an Academy Award. McDaniel was honored for her performance as Mammy in the 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s popular novel, Gone With the Wind, and her acceptance speech is a lesson in eloquence, grace, and humility.