Denise Aquino, host of Rowing in Color, caught up with Nancy Stahl, the illustrator behind the Women’s Rowing postage stamp, which will arrive in post offices May 13.
Stahl is a longtime illustrator whose work has included many USPS stamps. Check out the idea behind the illustration in their conversation below.
Denise Aquino: Nancy Stahl, thank you for joining me today.
Nancy Stahl: Thanks for asking me.
Aquin: Sure. The “Women’s Rowing” illustration on the postage stamp definitely caught my eye. Around this time last week I was standing in line at the post office, I hadn’t had my coffee yet, but once I saw this stamp – and this illustration – my day was already 100 times better. So I’m incredibly happy to talk to the illustrator behind it.
Stahl: I’m glad you saw it. I have not seen it again.
Aquin: Well, you know, for those of us in the rowing world, we have this keen sense and we catch this stuff. But enough about me – tell our rowing community who you are.
Stahl: I am an illustrator; I have been an illustrator for over 50 years. I started by doing illustrations for magazines and newspapers, advertising. And in the 80s, CD covers; all that kind of stuff. Things change. As time has passed, I appreciate a longer delay. I can no longer work at night. So I kind of evolved to work for clients that have longer lead times, and the Postal Service is one of those clients.
Aquin: wow. It’s good to know. So if the Postal Service has other long lead times and other ways to integrate rowing, we know that (laughs). For those unfamiliar with the Postal Service image, which comes out as a stamp on May 13, 2022, it is an image of two women rowing. The black rower rowed to port, then the white rower rowed to starboard. You are the artist – did I describe that correctly?
Stahl: The sheet of stamps actually includes two repeated stamps of two rowers each. And in the selvage (the area outside the actual stamps) there is a helmsman for each crew and indications of being on a river.
In the stamp you refer to, I just think the black woman was in front of the other woman. And so she is on the left. It is therefore “port”. I don’t know all the jargon. You know, I read about rowing, and I rowed. But I feel lost if it goes beyond the basics – so tell me!
Aquin: I mean, that feeling of being lost in the jargon did NOT translate into the artwork. On the contrary, I think a lot of people felt found and seen. It caught many people’s attention. On our Instagram, he got almost 2000 likes.
Stahl: Wow this is great! I’m glad people are excited. I hope it will bring more people into the community, into the sport.
Aquin: He was also featured on row2k’s Instagram highlights of the week, and the more eyes the better. What inspired you to create a multiracial representation of an essentially racially homogeneous sport?
Stahl: I wasn’t really focused on rowing being seamless. I mean, I know that’s traditionally the case. But I was going towards diversification mainly because it’s a postage stamp. And it is important that the reach of our country is represented on our stamps. It takes years for stamps to be issued, so it’s possible the Postal Service mentioned it as well, I don’t remember. But diversity is something I aim for whenever I do work for a client that doesn’t look like a portrait.
Aquin: It’s great to hear that the intention was there and that you were able to bridge the gap between intention and impact. So many people are going to see this stamp, which is so awesome.
Stahl: Yeah, I’m glad you noticed that. Hope you won’t be disappointed once you see the whole sheet. The thing is, you look at these images on a poster and they’re exciting, all enlarged. And then you see the buffer size. And it’s kind of, “…is that it? That’s it?” I hope you still enjoy full size stamps.
Aquin: Well, I still like to send letters. I can’t wait to receive stamp sheets in the mail. Some people said, “Oh, I don’t even write letters, but I’ll pick them up and distribute them.” That’s not how tampons work, but of course!
Stahl: In fact, the Postal Service is happy to have you buy stamps but not use them! Philately! (Laughs)
Aquin: You have inspired many young illustrators, especially young illustrators of color with a rowing background, to increase the visibility of rowing and the visibility of rowing art, especially rowers who look like them. And you said something that caught my attention in our email exchange, prior to this conversation. You said, “If they’re not part of the group, then I think it’s even more important that they be added to my footage.” So what advice would you give to artists, especially young artists of all ethnic origins, who want to increase their visibility in a given space?
Stahl: The fact that something has never been depicted should scare no one. Being the first to represent something is no reason not to do it. In fact, that’s a reason to do so. It opens things up and the more you see it, the more others become familiar with something they might not have imagined. This can only help remove obstacles.
Aquin: I think that’s a great message to send out to the rowing community. It’s great to open up and show the possibility of what change might look like, especially a vision depicted on a government-issued item.
Stahl: (laughs) It’s on a stamp!
Aquin: For sending ! (laughs) Nancy, thank you very much. Anything else you would like the rowing community to hear?
Stahl: Just that I think it’s a beautiful sport. I wish I had somewhere nearby where I could row.
________________________________________ Rowing in Color is a podcast that amplifies the voices of color in rowing. To learn more, visit www.rowingincolor.com or visit them Instagram at @rowingincolor