A faculty member in Mississippi State’s College of Architecture, Art and Design is putting his stamp on American culture and history with help from the U.S. Postal Service.
Alex Bostic, an MSU associate professor of art and illustrator with more than 40 years of experience, will see his original art “Edmonia Lewis” featured on one of several new USPS stamps being issued in 2022. The Edmonia Lewis Commemorative Forever stamp—the 45th stamp in the USPS’s Black Heritage Series—will be released Jan. 26 and available for purchase in sheets of 20 at www.usps.com/shopstamps.
A dedication ceremony for the Edmonia Lewis Commemorative Forever stamp is being held Jan. 26 at 12:30 p.m. EST at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. For more event details, visit www.usps.com/edmonialewis.
“I am proud to have my art on a U.S. postage stamp. I have done stamps for other countries, but this is my first for the United States,” said Bostic, who has taught at MSU for 11 years. “Edmonia Lewis was a perfect subject for me because of what she went through to be an artist, particularly as an African American.”
Born in Greenbush, New York, Lewis is regarded as the first African American and Native American sculptor to achieve international recognition. Her father was African American, and her mother a Chippewa Indian whose nomadic tribe Lewis lived with after being orphaned before the age of 5. With her brother’s encouragement and financial assistance, Lewis moved in the early 1860s to Boston, Massachusetts, where she began sculptural studies under portrait sculptor Edward Brackett. Lewis produced medallion portraits of well-known abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips. With sales of her portrait busts of abolitionist John Brown and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Lewis financed her first trip to Europe in 1865.
After traveling to London, England; Paris, France; and Florence, Italy, Lewis settled in Rome and rented a studio during 1865 and 1866. Lewis quickly learned Italian and became acquainted with two prominent white Americans living in Rome, actress Charlotte Cushman and sculptor Harriet Hosmer.
According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum website, a number of other American sculptors were living in Rome at this time because of the availability of fine white marble and the many Italian stonecarvers who were adept at transferring a sculptor’s plaster models into finished marble products.
The Smithsonian site said Lewis was unique among sculptors of her generation in Rome as she rarely employed Italian workmen and completed most of her work without assistance. Her motivation, according to the SAAM, was probably twofold—lack of money and fear of losing originality in her work.
Lewis specialized in subjects depicting her dual African American and Native American ancestry, and portrait busts of abolitionists and patrons, such as Anna Quincy Waterston. She also completed several mythological subjects, at least three religious subjects, and copies of Italian Renaissance sculptures. The sensitively carved “Hagar” is probably the masterpiece among her known surviving works, according to the SAAM. Lewis was last reported living in Rome in 1911. For more, visit https://americanart.si.edu/artist/edmonia-lewis-2914.
Bostic’s stamp art is a casein-paint portrait based on a photograph that Augustus Marshall took of Lewis between 1864 and 1871 in Boston, Massachusetts. USPS art director Antonio Alcalá first saw Bostic’s work in a show in Virginia 18 years ago. Alcalá contacted him in recent years about doing the Edmonia Lewis stamp, which he designed with Bostic’s original art.
Bostic said he recently took a sculpture class that inspired him to “see things in a more three-dimensional way,” and it gave him a deeper appreciation for the craft for which Lewis became known.
“Italy also is one of my favorite places on the planet—I taught a summer study abroad course there for seven years—and that’s where she was,” Bostic said of Lewis.
Bostic said he hopes the new stamp inspires people’s curiosity about Lewis’s life, and he encourages others to find and discuss books or information about the sculptor.
“Educating the public is something that is greatly needed in the Black community—people need to know about our heritage and what we’re capable of achieving,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of art, and I hope that more of our children will be artists. I want kids who grew up like me to get more support from their families, from the ground up.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bostic developed a love for the arts attending weekend lessons at the Pratt Institute, from which he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration in 1979. He also holds a Master of Arts in illustration from Syracuse University.
Housed in MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, the Department of Art offers concentrations in photography, graphic design and fine arts. For more on the state’s largest undergraduate studio program, visit www.caad.msstate.edu.