The U.S. Postal Service celebrates Kwanzaa with a new stamp issuance in 2024. The annual Pan-African holiday, observed each year from December 26 to January 1, brings together family, community, and culture.
Rendered as a digital collage, the artwork depicts three young performers: a male drummer and, behind and to either side of him, two female dancers. He wears a dark blue, green, and orange kufi, a white shirt, and pants with a geometric black-and-white mud cloth-like pattern. His djembe, blue with a white drumhead, hangs from his neck by a red strap. The two dancers wear orange dresses and gold jewelry. One has a red hair band. All three figures have silhouetted black skin and hair. The floor beneath their feet is diamond-patterned in shades of green, while the background features triangles in shades of red. Each dancer extends a knee and a bit of orange skirt beyond the image frame, into the white margin of the stamp.
Kwanzaa is intended to help unify African Americans from a wide array of religious and cultural backgrounds. It draws on a variety of African traditions, deriving its name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits.” With origins in ancient and modern first-harvest festivities occurring across the African continent, Kwanzaa incorporates and reimagines many of these communal traditions as a contemporary celebration and reaffirmation of African American culture. Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of its seven principles: Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba), and Faith (Imani). The Kwanzaa colors—black, red, and green—represent, respectively, the Pan-African people, the struggles they have endured through time, and the hope for a better future born from these struggles.
Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp with original artwork by Ekua Holmes.
The Kwanzaa stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp in a pane of 20. This Forever stamp will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.
Stamp Art Director
Ethel Kessler is an award-winning designer and art director working with corporations, museums, public and private institutions, and professional service organizations. For more than 20 years she has been an art director for the U.S. Postal Service's stamp development program. In 1981, Kessler established Kessler Design, Inc., for which she is creative director and designer. Clients have included the Clinton/Gore White House; the Smithsonian Institution; various art publishers; National Geographic Television; the National Park Service; and the American Institute of Architects. After earning a BFA in Visual Communications from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Kessler worked as a graphic designer for an architectural and planning firm. She then became graphic designer and exhibits project manager for the exhibits division of the United States Information Agency.
Award-winning collage artist Ekua Holmes uses cut and torn paper to investigate family histories, relationship dynamics, childhood impressions, and the power of hope, faith, and self-determination. A lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) in 1977. In 1983 she opened a gallery to show and represent Black artists and help build community among them.
Holmes has won several awards for her children’s book illustrations. Her first project, for Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford (2016), garnered a Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, the Robert Siebert Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Holmes received the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration in 2018 for her work in Kwame Alexander’s Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets and again in 2019 for Stuff of Stars, by Marion Dane Bauer. More recently, she illustrated Saving American Beach by Heidi Tyline King (2021).
Public art is another arena in which Holmes has been active. Her first initiative grew out of her work on Fannie Lou Hamer, who hailed from Sunflower County, Mississippi. In 2018, Holmes received a Now + There Public Art Accelerator Fellowship to launch The Roxbury Sunflower Project, which involved planting 10,000 sunflower seeds in her neighborhood. The project continues to thrive.
In 2013, Holmes was appointed to the Boston Art Commission and serves as its vice chair. In addition, as associate director of the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt, she manages and coordinates sparc! The ArtMobile, which offers arts programming predominantly in the Boston neighborhoods of Mission Hill, Roxbury, and Dorchester. She has also created and led workshops, served as a visiting artist and lecturer, and held artist residencies in public and private institutions throughout New England.
Kwanzaa (2024) is Holmes’s first project for the U.S. Postal Service.