The Year of the Rat is off to a great start for Camille Chew. This spring the RISD student will be earning her MFA in printmaking and illustration and her work is on a postage stamp! Chew created the rat mask now featured on the first of the twelve stamps in this year’s Lunar New Year series. You don’t have to be a philatelist to understand . . . this is huge!
The image is based on a photograph of the mask Chew had fabricated out of paper. According to the postal service quarterly, USA Philatelic, postal art director Antonio Alcalá was tipped off to Chew’s artwork by his 20-year-old artist daughter who was a fan. The postal art team had wanted to put a new spin on what would be the third in the Lunar New Year series, and Alcalá thought Chew’s animal-deity masks could be just the thing. So how was this done?
After working with Alcalá to sketch the design digitally, Chew constructed the Year of the Rat mask by cutting and scoring paper she printed with monotype textures. She glued the pieces together before hand-painting the finer details in acrylic, then strengthened the mask with a papier-mâché backing and added more delicate ornamentations, such as the tassels and flowers, before the final photograph was taken.
Today’s event celebrating the new stamp (officially issued in January in California) was hosted by representatives of the United States Postal Service at the RISD Washington Place auditorium. The event started with the national anthem and ended with cake (see below). Representatives from the postal service made a few remarks as did RISD Provost Kent Kleinman. And everybody was just happy and smiling.
Camille’s charming parents, Paul and Raf Chew, came down from Ithaca for the occasion. They both have backgrounds in math (she is also an artist who works in clay) and they bragged that when their daughter graduated from Alfred with a degree in printmaking, she also had a minor in math. Although “bragging” may be too strong a word here, but they sure were smiling.
Remember, their daughter had been contacted for this project out of the blue. None of them had clue this was coming their way. Raf still couldn’t quite believe how unlikely this was to have happened. (Mr. Alcalá’s daughter just happened to have found Ms. Chew’s artwork online.) And this might not be the end: there seems to be the likelihood that Camille Chew will be doing the entire 2020 Lunar New Year series. (That is how the first two series were handled.)
During the design process, the young Ms. Chew made a study of traditional masks and paper-cut folk art, but she also wanted to get the rat right.
As she worked, Chew referred to photographs of actual rats, making sure she had the proportions just right; there was a danger that the image would appear “too mouselike,” she says.
Not with those teeth.
You will notice that the pane of rat stamps has areas of gilding. The crown represents the rat’s status as the primary figure in the zodiac, and the circle represents the moon. The gold was added by the postal art team and it looks great.
I never got any cake. (Note that the postal service put Camille’s rat mask on the cover of their quarterly/catalogue.)