Creations by Minneapolis artist Día de los Muertos break new ground as postal service stamps
Día de los Muertos has featured in Luis Fitch’s art for the past 25 years – around the same time he moved to Minneapolis. Now his Day of the Dead art has merged with his lifelong dream of creating a postage stamp.
Fitch’s design for a U.S. Day of the Dead postage stamp debuts nationally on September 30 at a Day of Issue ceremony in El Paso, Texas. It is the first American stamp to feature Día de los Muertos.
Fitch remembers getting the call with the offer to design the stamp.
“I said a bad word in my head. Because I thought he was joking, that it was a friend of mine who knew I wanted to design a stamp, ”Fitch said. “He gave me enough information that I knew he was real, obviously. And so I got very excited.
Antonio Alcala, one of four art directors on contract for the Postal Service, discovered Fitch’s work during a visit to Chicago several years ago. It was part of an exhibition on ofrendas and the day of the dead at the National Museum of Mexican Art.
“When the mission came to make a Day of the Dead stamp, I immediately thought of his work, because it was just very graphic, colorful, bold and clever. And I thought it would be perfect for what the postal service needed, ”said Alcala.
Día de los Muertos is November 1 and 2 in Mexico. It is also celebrated in other parts of Latin America, although they may differ slightly. It is when the souls of deceased loved ones return for 24 hours to the living. Ofrendas – offerings in the form of altars – are created and include the favorite foods and drinks of loved ones, as well as cempasuchil (Mexican marigolds), candles, and calaveras.
Fitch is one of the founders of Uno Branding. His fascination with stamps dates back to his childhood in Tijuana. He joined a stamp collecting club in college.
“I was the youngest, I was probably 12 years old. And all the others were adults. Every Saturday they would get together and exchange stamps, and talk about stamps. It was my first exposure to stamps, ”said Fitch.
His neighbors knew he collected stamps and kept postcards and letters for Fitch. He carefully removed the stamps and returned the mail.
“There is so much graphics in each of the stamps. And there is always some historical information you can learn from it, ”he said.
His family will eventually move to San Diego. He lived very close to the main post office. He went there a lot, he said, because it was next to the public library.
At the age of 18, Fitch asked a postal worker to design a stamp.
“He actually had a brochure,” Fitch said.
“A month later, I received a letter. And basically, they were saying that my style was not suited to what they were looking for.
He forgot about it until three years ago when he presented at the American Institute of Graphic Arts. One of the other presenters was a designer from New York. She mentioned a stamp she made.
“It all came back to me. It’s like ‘Oh my god I have to design a stamp,’ ”Fitch said.
In October 2019, Fitch topped his list of anniversary goals that he would design a stamp. A day later, on his birthday, he got a call from Alcala, the Creative Director of Postal Services, asking if he wanted to design a Día de los Muertos stamp.
He remembered Alcala telling him not to get too excited as it can take three to six years to go through the whole process.
“It’s very exciting for me to see the United States embrace this aspect, part of our culture,” said Alcala.
Fitch submitted four drawings of calaveras, or skulls, depicting a mom, dad, girl and boy. The stamps also have marigolds and brightly colored candles.
“It’s the whole family. I think family is one of the biggest things that sets Latinos apart as a community, ”Fitch said.
Vicki Adame covers Latin American communities in Minnesota for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover under-covered issues and communities.
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