By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
A simple message that expresses gratitude, in elegant gold script interlaced with delicate flowers. The Thank You stamp is a work of art, made miniature, released with little fanfare on Friday by the U.S. Postal Service.
USPS recently debuted the Ruth Asawa stamp to honor the artistry of the Nisei sculptor and this week, another remarkable Japanese American female artist is showcased on the canvas of a Forever stamp.
Dana Tanamachi, 35-year-old Yonsei based in Brooklyn, created the postage stamp five years ago and its debut in the summer of 2020 couldn’t be more impactful as President Trump opposes funding for the agency, citing opposition to mail-in voting.
“Who would have thought that buying stamps would be a form of activism?” Tanamachi said in an interview with The Rafu Shimpo.
“I’m so honored to have created something that enables people to support the USPS right now in a very practical way.”
Tanamachi drew the original sketches by hand and then created the final art digitally. Greg Breeding was the art director.
A graduate of University of North Texas, she got her start in 2009, when creating a chalk design at a friend’s housewarming party in Brooklyn led to an assignment for Google. From there she began designing posters for Broadway productions.
Tanamachi worked under design icon Louise Fili for two years before opening up Tanamachi Studio, a boutique design studio specializing in custom typography and illustration for editorial, lifestyle, food, and fashion brands. Among her clients are Michelle Obama, O The Oprah Magazine, Nike, Instagram and Target. For the ESV Illuminated Bible, Tanamachi spent seven months hand-lettering more than 500 fold ink illustrations.
Her artistic inspiration is her grandmother, Mitsuye “Mitzi” Nimura Tanamachi. Mitzi met her future husband Tom Tanamachi while they were incarcerated in Poston, Ariz. during WWII. Tom studied architecture and Mitzi went to sewing school and learned patternmaking. Her grandparents married in camp and after the war, with nothing to go back to in California, were invited by family to move to southern Texas.
“I think I got my creativity from her,” Tanamachi said.
Mitzi passed away on Aug. 5 of COVID-19 at age 97. An obituary tribute to Mitzi called her the embodiment of the American dream and a deeply spiritual woman who encouraged “her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to aim high and to ‘Go for broke.’”
During the interview, Tanamachi was preparing for a Zoom celebration of her grandmother’s life.
“I’m a little sad she didn’t get to see the release of stamp. To me, she’s been my greatest muse and inspiration … she knows that. It’s just another way to honor her and say ‘Thank you,’ literally.”
In a talk for CreativeMornings, Tanamachi shared artifacts created by incarcerees, including an exquisite tiny parasol crafted by her great-grandmother out of cigarette wrappers. The parasol is among the artwork made during camp out of whatever humble materials incarcerees could find during their imprisonment. Such treasures are featured in Delphine Hirasuna’s seminal book “Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946” and the Allen Hendershott Eaton Collection at the Japanese American National Museum.
During her lecture, Tanamachi challenged the audience of artists and graphic designers to embrace the spirit of gaman.”
“When I began chalk murals almost a decade ago, it was not lost on me that I was using literal dollar-store chalk to create elaborate designs for some of the most influential people and brands. Creating beautiful things from simple and unexpected materials is in my blood,” Tanamachi said.
“I charge you to embrace the spirit of gaman with me, to continue to create beautiful things even when you feel you are voiceless, that your resources are limited, or that your well has run dry.”
Designing a postage stamp was one of her “bucket list” assignments and its release and the message couldn’t be more timely.
“Think about all the people we have to thank. 2020 has been so unexpected in so many ways. From the first part of it, we were thanking firefighters in Australia for putting out these wildfires. Then we were thanking essential workers and medical workers, here in New York City transit workers.
“Now we get to thank people who are leading in the civil rights arena, and people who are fighting for equality and justice — that Black Lives Matter,” Tanamachi reflected.
“So now were going to say thank you to the postal workers, these different groups of people keep popping up. We have more thank yous to give and say now than ever.”
Photos courtesy of Dana Tanamachi