March 14, 2011

Geronimo art from postage stamps

Artist Inspired by Saga of Geronimo’s BonesBritish-born artist Paul Seftel and an army of henchmen hit the streets distributing Post Nobilis, a mock newspaper addressing the legend that grave robbers from Yale’s Skull & Bones Society stole Geronimo’s skull from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1918. According to some accounts, one of the participants was Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to two U.S. Presidents. The front of Post Nobilis contains an account of the story, as well as “The Origins of the Apache,” taken from Geronimo’s autobiography; the back features an image of an American Indian postage stamp with a skull superimposed.

Seftel’s fascination with stamps stems from his discovery of the two-cent “Navajo Jewelry” stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 2004. “I found the repeating pattern beautiful and thought it ironic that the federal value of Native crafts was only two cents,” he said. “So I bought 4,000 of them and pasted them onto a 72″ x 48″ canvas, and painted the US flag over them with iron and copper pigments, oxidizing them to rust patina oranges and blues. It’s a remnant of contemporary US culture—and, as I like to say, simply my two cents. At that time, the second Iraq war was beginning, and I wanted to create an artifact stating how the US had painted itself over other cultures. I bought 16,000 of these ‘Navajo Jewelry’ stamps and incorporated them into numerous pieces. In a piece called Night Swimming, I laid out 4,000 on my canvas and as one became removed from the sheet I would place it upside down, the repetitive V-V-V-V pattern of the jewelry becoming a diamond and creating a warp in what was becoming like a blanket weaving of Navajo jewelry stamps.”

For the back side of Post Nobilis, Seftel started with a 14-cent “American Indian” stamp from 1923. He recreated the stamp’s image with thousands of smaller versions, then used many tiny images of Geronimo’s face (from the famous portrait by Ben Wittick) to create a skull. “It struck me that that nameless chief on the 14-cent stamp ought to be someone,” Seftel said. “There have been so many great and inspiring leaders within Native American history. And as Geronimo had so long been interred in federal captivity I thought it an interesting way to perhaps set that spirit free. So I created a piece with Geronimo emerging from the 14-cent stamp. To me, it’s a small way of acknowledging one hero out of many, and canonizing this revolutionary spiritual leader.”

He hopes that Post Nobilis will draw attention to the mystery of Geronimo’s bones (which, for the record, many experts consider to be a hoax) and the larger implications of past injustices.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Judge Dismisses Geronimo Lawsuit and Geronimo's Skull and Bones.

Below:  The front side of Post Nobilis.


Anonymous said...

So the federal value of native crafts is only 2 cents because of the stamp? What would be more appropriate no native jewelry stamps or something incredibly expensive and unpractical?

Rob said...

I don't think the most prestigious subjects get put on the most expensive stamps. I'm not sure there's any correlation between a stamp's price and its subject matter.

It could be just the opposite. Maybe the Postal Service puts the most desirable subjects on the least expensive (i.e., most used) stamps.