MICHIGAN – On January 18, 2020, the US Postal Service began selling the new “Grand Island Ice Caves” Priority Mail Express stamp, featuring a winter scene at one of Hiawatha National Forest’s premier recreation sites.
Staff from Hiawatha reached out to the USPS to learn more about the process of designing a new stamp. “It begins with the American people,” said Roy Betts, a senior public relations representative with USPS. “The Postal Service welcomes suggestions for stamp subjects that celebrate the American experience. Any proposal that meets the established criteria will be considered.”
According to Betts, even with the current prevalence of digital communication, there is strong public interest in stamps. “We receive tens of thousands of stamp suggestions from the public each year,” he said.
It is unknown who sent the suggestion for the Grand Island stamp to USPS but it is amazing to imagine it being selected among thousands of other suggestions, and is a testament to the beauty and grandeur of Upper Michigan and Hiawatha National Forest.
According to Betts, “The USPS stamp development department contracts a small team of professional art directors to oversee the creation of stamp designs.” The art directors, in turn, work with professional researchers, designers, artists, illustrators and photographers to produce the stamp art, arguably one of the most visible forms of public art. Greg Breeding is cofounder of an independent design company and served as art director for the Grand Island stamp project.
Breeding enlisted artist Dan Cosgrove to create the artwork for the Grand Island stamp. Cosgrove estimates he has worked on approximately 25 stamps for USPS over the years, and he is well-versed in stamp design, having created artwork for a Mount Rushmore stamp, a Hoover Dam stamp and several stamps featuring battleships.
Cosgrove began by studying photos and other background information on the ice caves, but still needed to ask himself what ice really looks like. “I even took photos of the icicles hanging off my back porch, looking at the way ice interacts with light, the color of the sky and so on,” Cosgrove said.
Since the ice curtains at Grand Island are constantly changing natural elements, Cosgrove realized that for this project his artwork did not need to replicate an exact ice formation. “I wanted the sketches to capture the spirit of the ice curtains and the rock formations that support the ice,” Cosgrove said.
Three preliminary sketches were presented to USPS and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, the members of which are appointed by the Postmaster General.
“Development of stamp art is an iterative process and keeping everyone involved throughout the process helps ensure the best possible final product,” notes Breeding.
Once the production package was approved, the Grand Island stamp moved to a highly secure printing phase where it was embedded with various security features to verify authenticity and thwart counterfeit. “Ashton Potter, one of two security printers under contract with USPS, printed 1.26 million copies of the Grand Island Ice Caves Priority Mail Express stamp,” said Bill Gicker, USPS Acting Director of Stamp Services. Gicker points out that security is a key element in both production and distribution of stamps, because they are essentially a form of currency.
The USPS unveiled the Grand Island stamp’s artwork on December 12, 2019, about five weeks before the January 18 availability of the stamp in Post Offices.
The new Grand Island stamp celebrates the winter beauty of Grand Island National Recreation Area, which is located on Lake Superior near Munising on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is edged by massive sandstone cliffs and beautiful beaches. "The Forest Service hopes that the new stamp will increase public awareness of GINRA and of the broad range of benefits and uses provided by National Forests in general,” said Janel Crooks, Hiawatha National Forest's public affairs officer.
Congress designated GINRA on May 17, 1990, in recognition of the outstanding features of this Lake Superior isle. During the summer months, visitors can easily reach the island using the passenger ferry service. GINRA's summer recreation opportunities include hiking, biking, and camping.
After October, Grand Island is comparatively quiet. During the winter months, groundwater seeps form magnificent ice curtains and stalactite-like icicles along portions of Grand Island's cliffs and caverns. However, access to these formations is limited by the safety of crossing the Lake Superior ice, which is uncertain due to strong currents in the underlying channels between the island and the mainland. The ice “caves” can be dangerous if not impossible to reach, so the stamp provides another way to glimpse this beautiful winter landscape.