While living in Africa, I was commissioned to design seven sets of postage stamps for two countries. The subject matter is decided before the actual commissioning, based on either a specific event or a subject appealing to collectors. The artist’s job is to do original and accurate paintings and then plan the type face and colors for the information that will be printed on the stamp. Often, there is little material with which to work, so researching, seeking out experts and learning so many fascinating things are part of the process. Two sets of my stamps have won world awards.
Below you will see five of the seven series of postage stamps designed by Mary Jane Volkmann, together with descriptions. Each can be ordered through Namib Stamps.
Traditional Women of Namibia
The designing of these postage stamps was a commission particularly close to my heart as I am naturally fascinated by the beautiful, diverse faces and customs of people. It involved a tremendous amount of research and I appreciate the generous assistance of two knowledgeable experts: Mrs. Antje Otto-Reiner, Ethnologist, and Mr. Bernard Schurz, Curator of the National Museum of Namibia. Some of the women portrayed in these stamps I had met or seen around the country. I painted them in their traditional clothing and headdresses. I used traditional basketry, utensils and ornaments to create a design around the stamp sheet. On the back of each stamp I have included a description. These stamp sheets won the third prize award at the 2003 World Stamp Cup competition in Paris, France, for the most beautiful souvenir stamp sheets in the world. To read more stories behind the traditions of some of these headdresses and to see historical photographs of them, scroll over the stamp sheet to find the links. Their origin is a most interesting blog and book published by Gondwana Collection Namibia and NamPost entitled Stamps and Stories. It is currently published in both English and German.
Dr. Mary Seely of the Desert Research Foundation in Namibia graciously assisted me in compiling the information I needed to paint these stamps. She took me on a walking tour through the dunes to understand the ecology of the area and to see in detail the signs of life they contain. I overlaid the stamps with a second design showing the different tracks and footprints on the dunes as one would see them in the moonlight. This layer was printed using a phosphorescent coating so the stamps actually glow in the dark. This sheetlet was released for and featured at the International Stamp Show in London, England.
To read stories and see photographs about the Brown Hyena and the Dune Lark, hover over the stamps above to access links to the book and blog called Stamps and Stories published by Gondwana Collection Namibia and NamPost. Both are available in English and German.
Orchids of Namibia
The commission to paint Namibian orchids for stamps was a particularly interesting one as the research on hand was rather limited. The national archives had a collection which a German settler had started and I used the radio to ask whether anyone had information. I had no idea orchids grew in so many different climates! Callie Schlettwein had some growing in his garden trees and took time in showing them to me and telling me about them. Each of the individual stamps was embossed in gold, and if you scroll below you will see a featured stamp sheet, also embossed in gold. Complementary writing is in Chinese. These stamps and the original artwork were presented and featured at the International Orchid Show in Beijing, China, in 1999.
Orchids of Namibia mini stamp sheet
Caprivi Flora and Fauna
This sheetlet of stamps features the nature, animal and plant life of the Caprivi area of Namibia. The African Fish Eagle stamp on this sheet was entered with three other Namibian stamps for the 1999 Stamp World Cup competition in Paris, France. These Namibian stamps were awarded a first prize in the geographical zone category for the most beautiful stamps in Africa and the Middle East, as well as a third prize overall for the most beautiful stamps in the World Prize category. The Fish Eagle stamp was also voted the most popular Namibian stamp for the year 1998.
Shells of Namibia
As I prepared my design for this set of postage stamps I was privileged to be assisted by Mr. Helmut zur Strassen, a well known member of the scientific community of Namibia. We went through his vast collection of shells to find those which are more common in the waters off the Namibian coast. These coastal waters are cold, so shells are not as colorful as their warm water counterparts. We chose four shells that would look nice as a set, and he sent them home with me as my live models. The design I painted around the edges of the stamp sheet consists of aquatic elements found in the same waters. These stamps were released for and the original artwork featured at the International Expo in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1998.
First day cover for Shells of Namibia stamps