On July 30, 2021, the U.S. Postal Service is releasing “Raven Story” – a new “Forever” stamp designed by Southeast Alaska Tlingit artist Rico Lanáat’ Worl.
Sitting at his computer in Sitka’s Sheldon Jackson Museum (he was artist-in-residence in mid-July), Worl shared how “Raven Story” came to be.
A few years ago, Antonio Alcala, an art director for the U.S.P.S., discovered some “Trickster Company” artwork at the National Museum of the American Indian and reached out to Worl. “Trickster Company” is the name of the family business started by Worl and his sister Crystal.
Worl chose “the ‘Box of Light’ as the foundational story that conveys basic info about Raven, a very common figure in Tlingit stories.” As a child, Worl remembers seeing the ‘Box of Daylight’ video produced by the Naa Kahídi theater, “and, of course, I read and heard the story out loud many times.”
“A time ago there was no celestial light. People lived in darkness. Raven heard of a chieftain who owned a collection of items of great light… Raven and the chieftain’s daughter had a baby raven. In that child’s youth, he loved the boxes…which held the sun, the moon, and the stars. A grandparent’s love is immeasurable. He let Raven play with the box of daylight. Raven brought the sun, the moon, and the stars to the universe.”
For Worl, the stamp “depicts a moment of climax in one of (Raven’s) heists. Raven is trying to grab as many stars as he can, some stuck in his feathers and in his hands or in his beak. Some falling around him. It’s a frazzled moment of adrenaline. Partially still in human form… as he carries the stars away. I think it’s a moment we all have experienced, the cusp of failure and accomplishment.” The artist wants “to continue people’s engagement and help them to learn.”
Raven’s Tlingit name is “yéil” – the “ei” is pronounced like “a” and to pronounce the “ell” sound, said Worl, you first shape your mouth like an “ell” and then “take your voice out and just push air through your lips.”
How was working with the U.S.P.S.? “I created some drafts and sent them to the art director, who worked with the Stamp Approval Committee and did a good job of advocating for me. Six months of drawings, sketches and back-and-forth, till we got the final design.”
Only recently has Worl “expected the title of ‘artist’. Creativity is integral to our culture. Most of my work comes out of my anthropology and design studies (U of PA) – crafting a tool for its purpose, having contact with museums and old masterworks.” Living in Juneau, Worl works closely with Sealaska Heritage Institute, whose art department he originated.
“My education helped me define a lot of the cultural issues surrounding art, for our community. We can actually go in there and create our own market.”
Lest anyone doubt Worl’s relationship with Raven, they have only to look at his right arm. Ravens frolic down its length, thanks to Dave Lang (of High Tide Tattoo Shop in Juneau).
“I credit most of my success to ‘playing’ – Raven playing in the wind on my shoulder was the first tattoo. Other Ravens coming down the arm represent me and my community, a variety of people I have learned from.”