The American Indian in Postage Stamps

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Profiles in Leadership, Accomplishment and Cultural Celebration


1) Introduction

2) Profiles in Leadership

3) American Indian Lifeways: Restoring Economies

4) American Indian Arts: Renaissance of Traditions

5) Credits

American Indian political, economic and cultural life, founded in ancient tradition and tested by wars and removals, has proven its endurance into the 21st century. Keys to this extraordinary resilience are found in the wisdom and bravery of its historic leaders, the ability of individuals to rise to the mainstream spotlight in the non-Native world, and the continuum of exceptional creativity in the arts. The qualities of contemporary Native leaders and artists are founded in the heritage of their historic predecessors.
Profiles in Leadership
Historic American Indian leaders honored here on postage stamps, exemplify a wide range of reaction to the radical confrontations that would drastically affect the traditions and culture of their peoples. Some chose resistance and war; others chose a path of adaptation and accommodation to a new way of life. In all cases, these leaders of nations were elder representatives of huge extended families, and their commitment to future generations was paramount. 

Colonial Diplomacy Through Alliances

Pocahontas (Matoaka)
Powhatan (Algonquian)
Intermediary, Emissary, and Diplomat

Pocahontas was the daughter of Powhatan (Wahunsenacawh), powerful chief of 30 confederated tribes of Algonquian people of the Virginia Tidewater region. In the early 1600s she became a respected intermediary between her nation and the English colonists. Pocahontas was "the instrument to pursurve this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion," according to English pioneer John Smith. She married successful tobacco grower and exporter John Rolfe, and died at age 22 while returning from a diplomatic mission to England.

This stamp is part of the Jamestown Exposition Issue commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement by English colonists, and is based on an engraving by Simon Van de Passe in The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles, written by Captain John Smith in 1624. It was issued in Norfolk, Virginia, May 3, 1907 (Scott 330)

The New America: Knowledge of the Land

Guide, Negotiator, and Peacemaker

Sacagawea, focused by her mission to reunite with her birth family at her ancestral Shoshone home, led the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition one thousand miles over the major portion of its trek across the Rocky Mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.

Hardy, resourceful and keenly aware of her indigenous geography, her presence served not only to calm the potential for war with the tribal nations along the way, but to secure the lives of her non-Native companions in negotiations for supplies and safety.

The Legends of the West stamps were the first in the Classic Collection series that featured broadly defined, Americana-based themes. The 20-stamp sheet portrays 16 individuals.

The Sacagawea stamp was issued in Laramie, Wyoming; Tucson, Arizona; and Lawton, Oklahoma, October 18, 1994.

Ingenuity in Written Communication

Visionary, Pioneer Communicator and Publisher

Sequoyah, a skilled silversmith without a formal education, understood the importance of the written word or “talking leaves” of the non-Native settlers, and set out to devise a method of writing using 85 symbols to represent all the vowel and consonant sounds that formed the Cherokee language.

Sequoyah’s syllabary was completed around 1821 and brought written literacy to the Cherokee people. It was used to publish books, newspapers, hymnals, and hand bills.

Tsa la gi Tsu lehisanunhi or The Cherokee Phoenix, made possible through the innovation of the syllabary, became the first American Indian newspaper in 1828.

The Sequoyah stamp was the first issue in the Great Americans series. The stamp image is based on a full-color portrait of Sequoyah, painted in 1965 by Charles Banks Wilson, that hangs in the Oklahoma state capital. It was issued in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, December 27, 1980.

Post-Removal Regeneration and Resiliance

The Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw, Cherokee and Seminole peoples became known by non-Natives as The Five Civilized Tribes after making every effort to adapt to the ways requested by their treaties - establishing courts and a formalized code of laws, and constructing schools and churches. Nevertheless, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830, intending to open up Indian land for settlement by European migrants. Their lands now appropriated, the five tribes were forcibly relocated to “Indian Country,” today’s Oklahoma, their long walk known as The Trail of Tears. Amid the unjust conditions they had endured, these Southeastern peoples retained their resolve to resettle as sovereign tribal nations, to establish themselves on new homelands and to continue their traditions and cultures.

The Paths of Great Sioux Leaders: Red Cloud

Red Cloud (Makhpiya Luta)
Chief of Oglala-Lakota
Defender, Negotiator, and Educator

A flood of American settlers was moving west over the Plains by 1866. Red Cloud fought a war to keep the wagon trains from trespassing on Oglala lands and destroying the buffalo herds, forcing the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which was to guarantee the Lakota possession of their lands forever. The treaty was broken and his people were forced onto the Pine Ridge Reservation. Red Cloud now envisioned that the route to survival and prosperity for his people was education. He petitioned Washington DC for a mission school where the Lakota youth would be equipped to walk equally in both the Lakota and white man’s worlds. A school continues in Pine Ridge as the Red Cloud Indian School, enhanced today by other educational institutions such as the Oglala Lakota College.

The Paths of Great Sioux Leaders: Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse (Teshunke Witko)
Shirt Wearer Chief of the Oglala-Lakota
Courageous Warrior, Visionary, and Hero

Tireless in his passion to thwart American military efforts intent on the confinement of the Lakota to reservations, the name Teshunke Witko remains a symbol of national pride and resistance among the Sioux people. A suberb military tactician in his own right, Crazy Horse played a major role in the defeat of General George Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. “My lands,” he said, “are where my people lie buried,” and “One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.” Crazy Horse chose to continue fighting after other chiefs such as Red Cloud and American Horse had chosen to seek peace with the United States. He was fatally bayoneted by a U.S. soldier while resisting his own confinement. There are no authenticated photographs of Crazy Horse.

The Paths of Great Sioux Leaders: Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotanka)
Chief and Holy Man of the Hunkpapa Dakota
Determined Defender, Inspirational Patriot, and Educator

Tatanka Iyotaka , or a large bull buffalo at rest, remained resistant to takeover until his death, and was to be the last chief to surrender his rifle. Like Crazy Horse, he served as a combined military, spiritual and political leader, standing firm against land intrusion by those who would talk peace and not guarantee it. At the Battle of the Little Big Horn against General Custer, his spiritual vision of victory was powerful enough to inspire his warriors to succeed. When famine forced him finally to deliver himself and his band into the hands of the United States Army, he still refused to sell his land. Today, once again inspired by the visionary hope of their leader, Sitting Bull College has as its motto that of the great Hunkpapa leader: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

The Paths of Great Sioux Leaders: Hollow Horn Bear

Hollow Horn Bear (Matihehlogego)
Chief of the Sicangu Lakota (Brulé)
Warrior, Diplomatic Statesman, and Orator

Hollow Horn Bear fought for his treaty rights at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. A well-recognized speaker for his people, representing them at treaty negotiations, he was a steadfast negotiator for peace in the face of overwhelming force. “You talk to us very sweet, but you do not mean it. You have not fulfilled any of the old treaties,” he said. He was also chosen to represent his people in negotiations with General George Crook at Rosebud Agency, South Dakota. He traveled to Washington, D.C. in 1905 to take part in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration as representative of his people, and walked in the Woodrow Wilson inaugural parade in 1913. His great appeal as a representative of an American Indian nations resulted in his likeness also appearing on a fourteen-cent stamp and a five-dollar bill.

The Plains Headdress: Signal of Leadership

The headdresses depicted on these stamps contain eagle and hawk feathers, beads, strips of animal fur, and horsehair. Under U.S. law today, the eagle feather is exclusively used by American Indian people, and only for cultural and religious purposes.

Five spectacular American Indian headdresses are featured in a booklet of commemorative stamps, the first in the American Folk Art series to be printed in booklets, and the first to feature more than four designs. The stamps were designed by Lunda Hoyle Gill of Riverside, California. They were issued in Cody, Wyoming, August 17, 1990. (Scott 2501 - 2505)

The Assiniboine headdress, circa 1920, was crafted from felt and wool. Large strips of ermine hang from both sides.

The Plains Headdress (continued)

The Cheyenne headdress, circa 1890, features brass-tack decorations across the brow, as well as golden eagle feathers, ribbons, and hair tassels.

The Plains Headdress (continued)

This Comanche headdress, mid 1800s, consists of golden eagle and dyed turkey feathers, with rabbit skin and fur along the sides.

The Plains Headdress (continued)

This Flathead headdress, circa 1905, is made from felt and large golden eagle tail feathers, with ermine skin spots and white cow tail hair tied to the end of each feather.

The Plains Headdress (continued)

This Shoshone headdress, circa 1900, is made from golden eagle tail feathers and the brow band is embroidered with porcupine quills.

Patriotism: In Defense of a Homeland

Chief Joseph (Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt)
Chief of the Nez Perce
Standard-Bearer, Patriot, and Peacemaker

Although he opposed war, he was drawn into it and, even in retreat from forced relocation, fought a heroic 1400-mile running battle from his homeland in present-day Oregon, to near the Canadian border before laying down his weapons and vowing to “fight no more forever.”

Chief Joseph stood for a natural connection to his peoples’ land. His spiritual depth is revealed in his famous phrase: “The Earth and myself are of one mind.” At treaty councils he often recalled his people’s assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition and simply requested justice: “We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask to be recognized as men. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men.” The Nez Perce or Nimi”ipuu are still working to regain lands reserved in their 1855 Treaty.

This portrait of Nez Percé Chief Joseph, painted from life by Cyrenius Hall in 1878, is part of the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. The stamp was issued on November 4, 1968, shortly after the Gallery opened in Washington, D.C.

Patriotism: In Defense of a Homeland

This 29-cent Chief Joseph stamp was issued in 1994. It is one of twenty of the Legends Of The West Issue stamps.

Patriotism: In Defense of Freedom

Geronimo (Goyathlay)
Chiricahua Apache
Warrior, Prisoner of War, American Icon

A most combative Apache leader, Geronimo resisted all government attempts to confine his people to reservations. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”A masterful warrior-chief, he fought Anglo-American and Mexican encroachment for thirty years, and suffered exile as a prisoner of war to a Florida jail, later to a guarded area in Alabama, and finally returned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Much of Geronimo’s military prowess was attributed to spiritual knowledge, partly expressed in his autobiography: “When a child, my mother taught me to kneel and pray to Usen for strength, health, wisdom and protection.”

The Legends of the West stamps were the first in the Classic Collection series that featured broadly defined, Americana-based themes. The 20-stamp sheet portrays 16 individuals. This stamp is based on a posed photograph of Geronimo by A. F. Randall. Issued in Laramie, Wyoming; Tucson, Arizona; and Lawton, Oklahoma, October 18, 1994.

Valor: Even in the Face of History

Stand Watie (De-ga-ta-ga)
Cherokee Confederate General

American Indians appear in all major American historical engagements. One of two American Indian brigadier generals to fight in the Civil War, Stand Watie commanded the First Indian Brigade, including cavalry and infantry from the Cherokee, Seminole and Osage, for the Southern Confederacy. He was the last confederate general to surrender. The other Indian general, the Seneca luminary, Ely S. Parker, penned Ulysses S. Grant’s terms of surrender for General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

The Civil War stamps were the second in the Classic Collection series. They were designed by stamp artist Mark Hess of Katonah, New York. There are 20 stamps in the pane. They were issued in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, June 29, 1995 (Scott 2975 L).

Valor: Even in the Face of History

The White Cloud (Mew-hu-she-kaw ) Chief of the Ioway
Son of White Cloud (Mew-hu-she-kaw ) the Elder
Orator, Provider, Peacemaker

By 1900, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa's 36 million acres as farmland. The original Iowa people had signed treaties to accommodate the expansion and had been relocated to a small reservation in southeast Nebraska where they became increasingly impoverished. Mew-hu-she-haw, inheriting the leadership skills of his father, decided to raise funds by touring with other Ioway in London in 1844-45, meeting with British dignitaries. While there, the entourage dressed in formal regalia and were engaged by George Catlin to perform in his studio and elsewhere for donations, part of which was donated to European hospitals. White Cloud was awarded a gold medal by the king. "The Americans have been long trying to civilize us, and we now begin to see the advantages of it, and hope the Government of the United States will do us some good,” White Cloud said. Today, the tribal headquarters of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska is located on reservation lands west of White Cloud, Kansas.

The Four Centuries of American Art sheet of twenty stamps was issued on August 27, 1998 in Santa Clara, CA. One of the stamps features the 1844/1845 The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas painting by George Caitlin currently in the Paul Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art.

The Twentieth-Century American Indian: Sports

Jim Thorpe (Wa-Tho-Huk)
Sak and Fox
"Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world.” King Gustav V of Sweden

James Francis Thorpe was declared by the Associated Press in 1950, “the greatest athlete of the first half of the century.” Thorpe was born in 1888 and grew up in Oklahoma. At the Haskell Institute and Carlisle Indian School, he excelled in football and track, becoming a football superstar, professional baseball player, and one of the greatest track and field stars of all time. At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe he became the first athlete to win both the pentathlon and the decathlon. Today, in the wake of his leadership, the North American Indigenous Games (“the Indian Olympics”) bi-annually convenes outstanding Native athletes from states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada.

20-cent commemorative stamp honoring American athlete Jim Thorpe was issued May 24, 1984, in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The First Day of Issue ceremony was held at Shawnee Junior High School.

Jim Thorpe, Star at Stockholm

The Postal Service’s Celebrate The Century® commemorative stamp and education program was introduced in 1998. Over a span of two years, stamps were issued to celebrate significant people, places, events, and trends of each decade of the 20th century. This stamp was issued in Washington, D.C., February 3, 1998.

The Twentieth-Century American Indian: Entertainment

Will Rogers
Humanitarian, Author, and Philosopher

Will Rogers exposed the lie of the stereotypical view of the “stoic” or humorless Indian. He reached millions of Americans with his wry social and political commentaries. Born in 1879, at Oologah, Oklahoma and raised on the family ranch, he was skillful at contest roping, becoming popular in Wild West shows and vaudeville as a trick roper. The multi-talented Rogers wrote books and newspaper columns and appeared in movies and on the radio. The three-cent stamp memorializes one of his lines that sums up his approach to life: “I never met a man I didn’t like.”

Issued in Claremore, Oklahoma on the 100th anniversary of Will Rogers’ birth, November 4, 1979, this is the third in the Performing Arts and Artists series of stamps and the second stamp to honor Will Rogers.

3-cent Will Rogers single. Issued in Claremore, Oklahoma, November 4, 1948.

American Indian Lifeways: Restoring Economies
The American Indian spirit for adaptation and renewal has sustained despite the terrors of conquest and the hardships of dispossession and displacement. Traditional ways persist today with intense creative power through the work of contemporary artists. Native lifeways echo the community memory, and promise to live on through an oral and increasingly written tradition.   

The Potlatch "Give-Away"
Reciprocity in Wealth Sharing

The communities of the North Pacific Coast have traditionally kept their economies in balance in the ceremony of the “potlatch” or give-away from a leader most able to share his wealth. Members of his community might arrive by water in their stately canoes for a feast and sharing of up to 10 days. The Haida canoe depicted was carved from a single red cedar tree. It celebrates Native navigation and extensive ceremonial visitation, a tradition that sustains to the present. This practice of the Potlatch was banned in 1884 by the Canadian government. Not to be deterred, today such potlatches have enjoyed a great resurgence, and in 2005, one Haida event in Coast Salish territory raised $5,000 for environmental education.

The Bountiful Buffalo: Re-building the Lost Herds

To the American Indian people of the Plains, buffalo were considered the ever-abundant bounty; their vast natural herds, numbering in the millions, provided food, clothing, shelter, all manner of tools, and even boats. The Buffalo Nation’s existence was ceremonially appreciated in dance, song and prayer. Ironically, by 1898 when this stamp is issued, the vast buffalo herd, at one time sixty million strong, was reduced to a few hundred animals penned in ranches and zoos. The Native nations, similarly decimated, their economic life nearly destroyed at the turn of the 20th Century, have reclaimed and revitalized this important aspect of their culture.

This stamp is part of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition Issue of 1898, issued in conjunction with the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition at Omaha, Nebraska, that called attention to developments west of the Mississippi River. The design is based on an engraving by Seth Eastman in one of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s volumes on the history of Indian tribes, published in 1854. Eastman was a talented amateur painter as well as an Army officer who had spent considerable time living among Plains Indians. It was issued in Omaha, Nebraska, June 17, 1898 (Scott 287).

Today, the 57 tribes of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative have rebuilt an Indian Country herd of over 15,000.

The buffalo is once again part of their peoples’ spiritual, ceremonial and nutritional life.

Cooperative Living, AD 1000
Centralized Cities Under One Roof

Indigenous peoples of southwestern United States realized economic and social safety in thousand-year-old massive structures serving as combined social, administrative and ceremonial centers that still stand today. Known as The Cliff Palace, a stately series of attached dwellings housed the Anasazi, the ancestors of the peoples of the contemporary pueblos. The Palace is dated to between AD 1100 and 1200 and is located in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. About 300 feet long, The Palace at one time contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas, rooms dedicated to spiritual or community meetings, which were entered from the roof level by ladders. The Cliff Palace may have had a population of 120 people.

American Indian Arts: Renaissance of Traditions
Native endurance is most visibly manifested through the arts, from architecture to ceramics, textile weaving to dancing. The arts of indigenous Americans speak of universal world-views, creation and other classic stories. They most clearly bring a viewer’s attention to our universal relationship to the Natural World, as examples of endurance through the restoration of time-tried concepts and values; and a continued renaissance of classic expressions and creations.

Before Columbus

The Calusa Indians were a thriving fishing and hunting society dating from circa AD 500 who lived along the southern gulf coast of Florida and into the inland waterways. Part of their spiritual life was their respect for the Florida panther. The Calusa were diminished by warfare with other Native nations and attacks from European invaders, but devastated by new European diseases and are lost to the historical record by the late 18th Century. In 1896, archeologist Frank Hamilton Cushing found this wooden, six-inch-high, human-feline effigy figure (AD 1400-1500) while excavating through a type of wetland that made possible the preservation of such a spectacular example of Calusa culture. Referred to as the “Key Marco Cat,” it is a transformative effigy with spiritual and ceremonial significance.

American Indian Dances

Ceremonial and social dance is a core traditional value among American Indian peoples.

“When we dance, we enter a totally Indian world, and we shake the earth and touch the sky as we continue our culture.” — George Horse Capture, Àani (Gros Ventre) culture-bearer, traditional dancer, museum professional.

This stamp series, designed by Keith Birdsong of Muskogee, Oklahoma, was issued during the Red Earth Festival, one of the largest celebrations of Native American culture. Issued in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, June 7, 1996.

The Fancy Dance, an energetic and spirited dance involving spinning is regularly seen at powwows.

American Indian Dances (continued)

The Butterfly Dance of the Southwestern Pueblos is a prayer for new beginnings, regeneration and agricultural success.

American Indian Dances (continued)

The Traditional Dance for men acts out stories of bravery and the hunt; for women, beauty, Mother Earth, grace and elegance.

American Indian Dances (continued)

The Traditional Dance for men acts out stories of bravery and the hunt; for women, beauty, Mother Earth, grace and elegance.

American Indian Dances (continued)

The Raven Dance of North Pacific Coast involves an elaborately masked dancer mimicking the movements and sounds of the raven. For many groups this dance is filled with sacred meaning and perform it to honor the Raven clan.

The Enduring Pueblo Pot

This block of four stamps was the first in the American Folk Art series. Designer Ford Ruthling, a New Mexico-born painter who has studied Pueblo Indian culture extensively, highlighted the artistic achievements of Pueblo peoples.

The Enduring Pueblo Pot (continued)

From Zia Pueblo in New Mexico, this painted pot is embellished with birds and a rainbow design. It was probably made by Reyes Galvan around 1910.

The Enduring Pueblo Pot (continued)

From a Hopi Pueblo in Arizona, this tall jar is painted with a representation of a katsina. It is in the collection of the Heard Museum.

The Enduring Pueblo Pot (continued)

From San Ildefonso Pueblo in New Mexico, this lustrously polished black-on-red water jar is painted with graceful and rhythmic curvilinear designs, made by Tonita Roybal Martinez, around 1909 - 1910. It is in the collection of the Denver Art Museum.

The Enduring Pueblo Pot (continued)

From Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, this pot is painted with a large parrot and flowers. It is in the collection of the School of American Research.

The Classic Navajo Textile

Earliest Navajo weavers developed their talent through skills learned from the Pueblo people. Their blankets were greatly traded throughout the Southwest, and became prized possessions of tribal leaders of the Plains and Plateau. Eastern visitors to the Southwest developed a demand for larger versions as rugs, and trading posts engaged weavers to fill their orders. Woven into their designs were reflections of their environment, spiritual insights and meanings, and inherited patterns. Designs and colors sometimes took on a southwestern Spanish influence. Always one-of-a-kind, always an intricate message told within a complex thought process, Navajo textile excellence has endured in the people, despite times of oppression, starvation, removal, and reservation relocation. The renaissance of this art is on-going, re-vitalizing itself with 21st century weaving talent.

The Navajo Art stamps are the sixth issue in the American Folk Art series. Designer Derry Noyes based each of the four stamp designs on an actual Navajo weaving. Issued in Window Rock, Arizona, September 4, 1986.

The Classic Navajo Textile (continued)

Late Classic small wearing blanket, woven from natural handspun yarns and commercially manufactured yarns that were unraveled from trade cloth and re-worked by Navajo weavers around the 1870s. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

The Classic Navajo Textile (continued)

“Germantown” blanket woven entirely of four-ply yarns of the type manufactured in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and traded through trading posts on the Navajo Reservation around 1890. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

The Classic Navajo Textile (continued)

Classic serape, woven of three-ply aniline-dyed Germantown yarn manufactured only from 1864 until about 1875. Collection of the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami.

The Classic Navajo Textile (continued)

Classic serape, woven of natural handspun yarns, blue indigo-dyed yarn, and yarn spun from unraveled red trade cloth, around 1850 to 1860. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

Navajo Jewelry: An Amalgam of Creativity

Early Navajo metal jewelry was composed of copper or brass. Silver ornaments were at first bought from Mexican smiths from whom the Navajo adapted the art of silversmithing somewhere between 1850 and 1870. Many pieces were made of both Mexican silver and melted coins.

The classic Navajo “squash blossom” necklace is typically composed of round silver beads of two hemispheres, ornamental beads resembling stylized blossoms, and a central pendant in the form of a crescent. The squash blossom motif is based on a stylized version of the pomegranate blossom. The Navajo name for this type of bead meant "round beads that spread out" as did their squash blossoms. The central “naja” crescent motif is seen in early Roman and Moorish design and later used as an amulet on Spanish colonial horse headband amulets said to ward off the evil eye. Around 1880, Navajo silversmiths began in-setting stones such as turquoise which they obtained in trade with the Zuni for silver. Artistic expression continues to flourish among Navajo silversmiths today, who use gold and a variety of semi-precious and precious stones to create traditional and contemporary designs.

Art of the American Indian Issue

The 37-cent Art of the American Indian commemorative stamps were issued in a souvenir sheet of ten in ten designs on August 21, 2004, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Arizona, designed the stamps. Avery Dennison produced 87 million stamps in the gravure process.

This issue demonstrates the diverse ways in which American Indians, in their everyday lives, created utilitarian, social, spiritual, and commercial objects that were also extraordinary expressions of beauty. The pane features photographs of ten American Indian artifacts dating from around the eleventh century AD to circa 1969. John Stevens, a calligrapher in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, designed and created the lettering in the title. Descriptive text on the back provides an overview and information about each of the ten objects.

The First Day of Issue ceremony took place on August 21, 2004, at the Santa Fe Indian Market. This annual event sponsored by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) included 1,200 artists from a hundred tribes. The event attracted visitors from all over the world. The stamp's issuance was also in anticipatory celebration of the September 2004 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Postal Bulletin (July 22, 2004).

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

The Mimbres people of southwestern New Mexico produced a unique style of black-on-white pottery featuring representations of wildlife, humans, or mythic beings combined with geometric motifs. Most bowls of the Classic Mimbres period (circa A.D. 1000-1150) probably served as eating vessels. This striking example depicts two stylized bighorn sheep, animals that were once common in the Mimbres area.

Maxwell Museum of Anthropology
The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Containers of folded or sewn rawhide, known as parfleches, were traditionally used by Plains and Plateau tribal groups to store and transport food and material possessions. These utilitarian objects were painted with colorful and distinctive geometric patterns that had both aesthetic appeal and spiritual significance. This Kutenai parfleche was collected in 1900, probably in Idaho.

American Museum of Natural History
New York, New York

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Wood sculpture was a fundamental form of artistic expression among the men of the Northwest Coast tribes, and objects carved and painted in their distinctive style were eagerly sought by tourists and collectors. These two Tlingit sculptures, dated circa 1890, likely illustrate the story of Salmon Boy, a youth who lived for a time with the Salmon People in their supernatural realm beneath the sea.

Phoebe A Hearst Museum of Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Using ingenious twining techniques, women of the Great Lakes and Central Plains tribes wove beautiful storage bags of bison hair, plant fibers, and wool yarn, often incorporating stylized depictions of mythological beings into their designs. The thunderbird, which embodies the sky realm, was a favorite motif; this one is a detail from an 1840-1860 Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) bag collected in Nebraska.

Cronbrook Institute of Science
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

During the early decades of the 20th century, Miccosukee Seminole women in Florida developed a unique style of patchwork clothing. They used hand-operated sewing machines to piece together brightly colored cotton shirts and dresses, and they outfitted dolls made for the tourist trade in miniature versions of these traditional garments. This male doll, made circa 1935, wears a man's, or big shirt.

National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, D.C.

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

This sandstone male effigy is an outstanding example of the art of the late Mississippian culture (A.D. 1300-1550) in Tennessee. A strikingly naturalistic portrait, the statue provides a valuable glimpse into a complex prehistoric society. It was found with a female figurine that was carved in less detail; together they may represent the ancestors of a founding lineage.

Fronk H. McClung Museum
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is known for exceptionally thin-walled pottery decorated with complex geometric designs carefully painted on a white slip background. Master potter Lucy Martin Lewis (circa 1895-1992) helped revive the black-on-white style by adapting 800-year-old Puebloan pottery designs to modern Acoma ceramics. The lightning pattern on this jar, which she made about 1969, derives from ancestral traditions.

National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, D.C.

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Weaving is the art form for which the Navajo are best known, and the finely woven textiles from the Two Grey Hills region in New Mexico--characterized by geometric designs executed in natural shades of hand-spun wool yarns with wide or multiple borders-are highly esteemed. Daisy Taugelchee ( 191 1-1990), who set unprecedented standards of fine spinning and weaving, made this stellar tapestry in the late 1940s.

Denver Art Museum
Denver, Colorado

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Among the Iroquois, carving was traditionally men's work, and they were adept at transforming wooden utensils into works of art-a skill particularly evident in the diverse human and animal effigies that adorn the handles of ladles. This elaborately carved handle finial, depicting a dog watching a human eating, ornaments a mid-19th-century Seneca ladle from the Tonawanda Reservation in New York.

New York State Museum
Albany, New York, on loan to Akwesasne Museum, Hogansburg, New York

Art of the American Indian Issue (continued)

Renowned for the exquisite beauty and technical excellence of their basketwork, California Indians—who used basketry items for every conceivable utilitarian, social, and ritual purpose—elevated a practical craft into fine art. This superb Luisefio coiled basket, made of split sumac and natural and black-dyed juncus rush on a grass foundation, probably dates to the 1890s.

Riverside Munidpal Museum
Riverside, California

For Further Reading:

Pocahantas and Jamestown

Sacagawea and the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Sequoya, the Cherokee Syllabary and the Cherokee People

The “Five Civilized Tribes” and Removal;doc=25

Red Cloud and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868

Crazy Horse and the Battle of the Little Big Horn

Sitting Bull and Sitting Bull College

Plains Headdresses

Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Experience

Geronimo and the Removal and Return of His People

Ely S. Parker, Seneca, and the Civil War

Four Centuries of American Art

Jim Thorpe and Haskell/Carlisle Indian Schools

Will Rogers , His Life and Sayings

History of the Potlatch

Mesa Verde, Ancient Dwellings Now World Heritage site

Ceremony and Pow Wow: American Indian Dance

American Indian Ceramic and Textile Arts

Created by Jose Barreiro (Taino) and Sandra Starr, NMAI, and Thomas Lera, NPM
Credits: Story

The National Postal Museum would like to thank Jose Barreiro (Taino), Assistant Director for Research, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and Sandra Starr, Senior Researcher, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, for their contributions to this virtual exhibit.

Many of the subjects appearing in this virtual exhibit and on U.S. stamps in general are suggested by the public. Each year, the Postal Service receives from the American public thousands of letters proposing stamp subjects. Every stamp suggestion meeting criteria is considered, regardless of who makes it or how it is presented.

To learn more about the stamp selection process, visit the following link to the Postal Service's web site:

Visit the National Postal Museum's Website

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.