The U.S. Postal Service released a preview image Wednesday of a Maya Angelou Forever stamp designed around a portrait of the author, poet and activist by Atlanta artist Ross Rossin.
Rossin’s hyper-realistic 2013 4-foot-square oil-on-canvas depiction of Angelou is part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s collection, where it will be on display through Nov. 1.
“I wanted to capture her laughter, her cry and the forgiveness and blessings that came from her face,” Rossin said in the USPS announcement. “It is not only her portrait that is bigger than life. It is she herself who is bigger than life. The portrait is evidence of her magic.”
The Bulgaria-born Rossin was introduced to Angelou by his friend Andrew Young, the subject of a portrait by the artist that also hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, in 2013.
“I applaud the U.S. Postal Service for their decision to honor my beloved friend Maya with a Forever stamp, and for using Rossin’s portrait of her for this perennial image,” Young said in the announcement. “He is a master portrait artist — a prodigy. It is an honor to be immortalized by his brushstroke.”
Rossin said he had long wanted to paint Angelou.
“She was a voice that inspired millions — not just as an individual, but as a legendary poet and a civil rights icon who transcended generations,” he said. “I was compelled by the challenge to portray her forgiving smile and her aura of unconditional love and understanding that comes across when having a conversation with her.”
The impressive legacy of Angelou, one of 20th-century literature’s most important voices, includes “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a 1969 autobiographical account of her childhood that vividly depicts African-American life in the segregated South.
The stamp features a quotation by the writer, who died last May at age 86: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
The stamp pane (or sheet) also includes a short excerpt from Angelou’s book, “Letter to My Daughter”: “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
The First-Day-of-Issue stamp dedication ceremony is planned for 11 a.m. April 7, at the Warner Theater in Washington. The stamps may be pre-ordered at www.usps.com (click on Postal Store) for delivery shortly thereafter.
In addition to the National Portrait Gallery, paintings by Rossin can be found on the walls of the Center for Civil and Human Rights (of seven human rights heroes, including Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela) and the Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta; the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.; as well as in the private collections of Young, Morgan Freeman and Queen Elizabeth II.
The artist recalled Angelou’s response to his glowing portrait: “This is exactly how I see myself and exactly how I wish to be remembered.”