If you’re an artist, where do you find inspiration for a painting? And when the canvas is the size of a postage stamp, what special considerations must be made? For his work on the Innovative Choreographers (Forever®) stamps, renowned artist James McMullan turned to photographs depicting the choreographers performing their signature dances.
Aware of the inherent challenge of transposing the complex physicality of dance to the diminutive stamp format, McMullan opted to express the essence of each choreographer’s creation. He painted each choreographer’s characteristic gestures and movements so that at a mere glance we recognize Isadora Duncan’s poeticism, José Limón’s dynamism, and Katherine Dunham’s lyricism.
But Bob Fosse proved an elusive subject. Pictures of Fosse in performance are not as plentiful as photographs of the other three choreographers. Having captured so eloquently the gestural likenesses of Duncan, Limón, and Dunham, McMullan painted a figure in a pose reminiscent of Bob Fosse, which lead to a lot of discussion among researchers, consultants, the art director—Ethel Kessler—and the Postal Service. Was it a problem to show three of the choreographers in performance and not Fosse? Would the balance of the stamps be disrupted by the anomaly of a surrogate Fosse?
The consensus was: Fosse needed to be Fosse. Postal Service researchers went to work again, this time enlisting the support of the Fosse estate. Still, they could not seem to find the right photograph. Finally, after revisiting pictures that had been considered and dismissed and appealing to the choreographer’s estate for assistance with the search, the researchers found a picture that was quintessential Fosse—right down to the hat, cane, and tilt of the head in a gentle bow.
These four Innovative Choreographers helped make dance a truly exciting art in the 20th century. And for all you dance lovers, we have a contest that will test your choreographic knowledge. Are you ready?
Which famous dances are depicted on the stamps for José Limón and Katherine Dunham?
One lucky winner will receive a copy of A Century of Dance—a collectible 32-page, softbound booklet illustrated with historic and great dance-makers of the 20th century.
To enter, send your answers to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. The winner will be selected at random and notified by email. You have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 14, to submit your answers. Good luck!