On This Day: Director John Ford Receives Medal of Freedom

On this day in 1973, President Richard Nixon presented film director John Ford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest awards given to civilians. “In his life and in his work,” reads the award citation, “John Ford represents the best in American films, and the very best in America.” The presentation took place at the first ceremony for the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, which Ford also received.

John Ford is one of four directors who will be honored later this year on the Great Film Directors stamp pane. The others are Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Huston. Have a favorite John Ford movie? Tell us about it in the comments.

The use of the name and likeness of John Huston by permission of the Huston Family.

Remembering Selena: A Pioneer of Tejano Music

Today we pause to observe the anniversary of the death of Selena, a musician whose charisma and rich, emotional vocal style helped transform Tejano music. On March 31, 1995, at the age of 23, Selena was shot and killed by the former head of her fan club. It was reported that 75,000 mourners gathered in Corpus Christi, Texas, to pay their final respects. Her posthumous album, Dreaming of You, was released that summer and hit number one on the Billboard 200. Its singles “I Could Fall In Love With You” and “Dreaming of You” were among her best known English-language songs, and two of my absolute favorites.

I bought as many cassettes of hers as I could find shortly after her death 17 years ago (like every other Texan at that time) and spent most of my childhood memorizing the lyrics and humming the rhythms of her songs. Her captivating energy and magnificent voice had me hooked. I still listen to her music when the mood strikes me and let that familiar, up-beat voice take me back in time.

Latin Music Legends Commemorative Print (set of 5) (click to order)

Selena’s legacy extends far beyond her tragically short life. Tributes to her work have included a biographical documentary, a popular film made of her life starring Jennifer Lopez, and a memorial and museum in Corpus Christi, Texas. Today, her spirit lives on in the work of the Selena Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in May 1995 to help children in crisis. Hers is a name that won’t soon be forgotten.

Selena licensed by Q Productions, Inc., Corpus Christi, Texas

Sí se puede: Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day (and a contest!)

Cesar E. Chavez (1927–1993) is best remembered as the founder of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW). A strong believer in the principles of nonviolence, he effectively employed peaceful tactics such as fasts, boycotts, strikes, and pilgrimages. Last Friday, President Obama proclaimed today Cesar Chavez Day:

One of our Nation’s great civil rights leaders, Cesar Estrada Chavez came of age as a migrant farm worker, witnessing the injustice that pervaded fields and vineyards across California. Facing discrimination, poverty, and dangerous working conditions, laborers toiled for little pay and without access to even the most basic necessities. Yet amidst hardship and abuse, Cesar Chavez saw the promise of change—the unlimited potential of a community organized around a common purpose. Today we celebrate his courage, reflect on his lifetime of advocacy, and recognize the power in each of us to lift up lives and pursue social justice.

For more than three decades Chavez led the first successful farm workers union in American history, achieving gains such as fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits, and human living conditions. However, his work transcended any one movement or cause. Chavez inspired millions of Americans to seek social justice and civil rights for the poor and disenfranchised. He advocated for nonviolent social reform. He was an environmentalist and labor leader. Ultimately, he forged an extraordinary and diverse national coalition of students, middle-class consumers, trade unionists, religious groups, women, and minorities.

Chavez’s motto in life—si se puede (“it can be done”)—embodies the uncommon and invaluable legacy he left behind. The U.S. Postal Service honored Chavez with a stamp in 2003. “He was the champion for hardworking but underpaid workers,” said art director Carl T. Herrman, who designed the stamp. “His life shows that you don’t have to be a wealthy person to make a difference in America.”

To celebrate Cesar Chavez Day, we’ve devised a little contest for you all. Here’s the question: Who famously called Chavez “one of the heroic figures of our time”? Send your answers to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. Of those who answer correctly, five will be chosen at random to receive an official USPS program from the Cesar E. Chavez First Day of Issue Ceremony held in Los Angeles on April, 23, 2003. You have until midnight tomorrow (Sunday, April 1) to enter. Good luck, and remember, spelling counts!

Gerty Cori’s Lifesaving Discoveries

Biochemist Gerty Cori (1896-1957), a brilliant, imaginative, and enthusiastic medical researcher, became the first American woman and the third worldwide to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. In collaboration with her husband, Carl, she made many important discoveries that elucidated the steps of carbohydrate metabolism and became the basis for our knowledge of how cells use food and convert it into energy. Their work also contributed to the understanding and treatment of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

The Coris isolated and crystallized the enzyme phosphorylase, which functions as a catalyst for converting glycogen (a branched form of starch) into glucose-1-phosphate, a compound that came to be known as the Cori ester. They proposed that glucose arising from this process is transported by the blood to muscle, where it is converted to lactate and provides the energy for muscle contraction. Lactate, in turn, is transported by the blood back to the liver to synthesize glucose. The overall process is known as the Cori cycle. The conversion of glucose to lactate is called glycolysis, and the Coris studied several of the enzymes involved in that conversion. In the latter years of her career, Gerty Cori pinpointed the missing or defective enzymes responsible for various genetic glycogen storage diseases.

In 1947, Gerty and Carl Cori were awarded a half share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, “for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen.” In the speech Carl Cori made at the Nobel banquet, he briefly described his and Gerty’s close collaboration over the years and went on to say, “Our efforts have been largely complementary, and one without the other would not have gone as far as in combination.”

The Coris obtained positions at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1931—Carl as a faculty member and Gerty as a research fellow. In 1947, the same year the couple won the Nobel prize, Gerty Cori was promoted to the rank of full professor in the biological chemistry department. Over the years, six other Nobel laureates received training in the Coris’ laboratory at Washington University.

Also in 1947, Gerty Cori was diagnosed with an incurable and painful bone marrow disease, which she fought courageously for ten years. She continued to work until just a few months before her death on October 26, 1957.

Released in 2008, the second issuance in the American Scientists pane honored some of the country’s most brilliant minds. The 2011 issuance of the series features chemist Melvin Calvin, botanist Asa Gray, physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer, and biochemist Severo Ochoa.

Artist Spotlight: Margaret Bauer

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing some of the great female artists and designers who have contributed to the stamp creation process. This is the third in an occasional series of interviews.

Margaret Bauer is passionate about art and design. She spent 12 years in the Publishing Office of the National Gallery of Art, and in 2007, opened her own studio in Washington, D.C. She has designed a handful of stamps for the Postal Service. Her most recent projects were the Romare Bearden Forever® stamps and the , which were released in 2011.
I caught up with Bauer this week.

Growing up, were you interested in art?

Yes. I took afterschool art classes, and in school it was always the class where I felt most at home. We lived in New York City when I was young and we often went to museums. Also, my dad loved architecture and so looking at buildings and thinking about form was something I was exposed to.

How did you become interested in graphic design?

I took my first graphic design class my senior year in college and that’s how I learned that there was such a thing as graphic design—which was different than advertising or from being an “artist.” I immediately fell in love with it because it spoke to both my creative instincts and my sense of the meticulous.

Do you have a favorite art museum?

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice is terrific, as is the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, but I suppose if I had to pick a favorite, it would still be the National Gallery of Art in Washington. It is really and truly a national treasure, and having worked there for 12 years, it has a special place in my heart.

How did you first get involved with the Postal Service?

Art Director Derry Noyes asked me to work with her on the Georgia O’Keeffe stamp in 1995, and the collaboration took off from there. Since then we’ve worked together on Teddy Bears, Modern American Architecture, Industrial Design, and Romare Bearden.

Do you enjoy working on stamps?

Stamps are incredibly fun to work on for many reasons. I had a teacher that described stamp design as “poster design in miniature.” A lot of the same issues come into play—issues of readability and strong visuals. There’s not a lot of real estate to work with so the typography has to be carefully considered, and issues of scale and balance are important. I particularly enjoy working on sheets of stamps because then you are thinking about the composition of the sheet as a whole in addition to the design of each individual stamp. And of course it is thrilling to get a letter in the mail with a tiny piece of your creative effort stuck in the corner.

The Pioneers of American Industrial Design stamps seemed unique—what was it like working on those?

The Industrial Design stamps were sort of an extension of the Masterworks of Modern American Architecture sheet—both focused on the idea of “American Design.” At least, that’s how Derry and I conceived of them. So, the design objective was to use the basic format and palette that we used for the Architecture stamps, but rework it to fit the subject at hand, such that they might feel like part of a series and yet be unique enough to stand on their own. The difficulty came in trying to give commonplace objects a sense of presence and in finding a balance between something playful and something serious.

Do you have a favorite stamp project that you’ve worked on?

I most enjoyed working on the Architecture stamps because they were the first sheet of 12 I ever worked on and because the subject matter was unbeatable. Also, I was intrigued by the challenge of the project: how to treat the buildings in a way that wasn’t static; how to show the details of these huge structures; how to make something cohesive out of images that were so diverse. Deciding to show dramatic details, to reproduce all the photography in black and white and contrast that with colorful but very structured typography, and to stagger the stamps on the sheet are some of the solutions we came up with.

Are you working on anything specific right now that you’d like to mention?

I am predominantly a book designer, working mostly on large exhibition catalogues for museums. Right now I am designing a book for MoMA and one for the Princeton University Museum of Art.