Tlingit Stamp, James Michener’s “Alaska”

Several years ago on an Alaskan vacation James and I spent some time at a historical site in Juneau where we learned more about the Tlingit nation. They are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, and the art from their hands features some of the most iconic motifs associated with native culture. We spoke at length with a young woman who was working to preserve the language by teaching it to younger members of the community. She was most impressive with her connection to the past but also a commitment for the future of her people.

This week for the first time the US Postal Service debuted a stamp designed by an Alaskan native. Tlingit and Athabascan artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl is a well-established working artist who now will be even better known in the nation. He is also a teacher and social designer with Juneau-based Alaska Native arts nonprofit Sealaska Heritage Institute. 

Worl’s forever stamp is titled “Raven Story” and takes one of the signature characters in Tlingit lore as its subject. The stamp immortalizes a thrilling moment from the story of Raven setting free the sun.

“Many depictions of this story show Raven with the sun in his mouth representing the stealing of the sun. I was trying to showcase a bit of drama,” Worl said. “The climax of the story is after Raven has released the sun and the moon and has opened his grandfather’s final precious box, which contained the stars. In this design I am imagining Raven in a panicked state of escape — transforming from human form to raven form and holding on to as many stars as he can while trying to escape the clan house.”

The alignment of this stamp event and a book I am reading is matched perfectly. James Michener’s character Raven-heart of the Tlingit nation in Alaska creates the mood and historical backdrop for this recent event being placed in a richer field of understanding.