Camille Chew, a printmaking graduate student at RISD originally from Ithaca, NY, designed the whimsical rat mask that is featured on the latest stamp in the postal Lunar New Year series.
Having your art on a postage stamp means it will travel all over the world and live in stamp collector’s books for years to come. The Year of the Rat Lunar New Year stamp was officially dedicated in California, during opening ceremonies of the Monterey Park Lunar New Year Festival on Jan. 11.
At first glance, Chew’s work may seem an unlikely candidate for a postage stamp. Her work explores themes of mythology, fantasy, and the occult. But postal art directors are always on the hunt for new stamp artists – and ready to make an exciting discovery.
“It can happen when we’re out shopping, it can happen when we’re at a gallery or a bookstore,” said USPS art director Antonio Alcala. “It can happen anywhere.”
After receiving a tip from his 20-year old daughter, Alcala looked deeper into Chew’s online portfolio and discovered the whimsical animal-deity masks she had crafted for her senior project in college. Alcala realized he had found the possible answer for the new Lunar New Year stamp. The rat is the first of the 12 zodiac signs and he was looking for something different and fresh. He found that in Chew.
Chew worked with Alcala to sketch the design digitally. She then constructed the Year of the Rat mask by cutting and scoring paper which she printed with monotype textures. After she glued the pieces together and hand-painted the finer details in acrylic, she strengthened the mask with a papier-mache backing, adding the more delicate ornamentations, such as the tassels and flowers. The mask was shipped to Alcala before the final photograph was taken.
In order to prepare for this commission, Chew studied the elaborate masks used during the lions and dragon dances performed at Lunar New Year celebrations, as well as traditional paper-cut folk art associated with the holiday. With Alcala’s guidance and feedback, she transformed these ancient sources with her own modern and magical flair, constructing an image that feels entirely new.
In 2020, the Postal Service is launching its third Lunar New Year series with the issuance of the Lunar New Year: Year of the Rat Forever stamp. The Year of the Rat stamp will be the first of 12 stamps in the series. The Year of the Rat observance begins Jan. 25, 2020, and ends Feb. 11, 2021. Calling to mind the elaborately decorated masks used in the dragon dance often performed in Lunar New Year parades, this three-dimensional mask depicting a rat is a contemporary take on the long tradition of paper-cut folk art crafts created during this time of year.