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The Postal Store®

There’s no shortage of photos depicting August Wilson. But as art director Ethel Kessler searched for images to inspire the latest stamp in the Black Heritage® series, she kept remembering one in particular. 

Months earlier, at the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Kessler had encountered an enlarged photo of the celebrated playwright. While many of the portraits she’d previously seen looked painstakingly posed, this one felt candid and approachable, “as if someone had said, ‘Just stand there and let me take your picture,’” Kessler says. “The photograph is very casual and charming — he’s got this slight smile. It was as if I could stand right next to him.”

Hailed as a 20th-century trailblazer for bringing African American drama to the forefront of the theater, Wilson wrote in a way that was both highly lyrical and inspired by everyday conversation. His peers joked that you had to watch what you said in his presence: Otherwise, you might end up in one of his plays. Kessler and the stamp artist, Tim O’Brien, felt that the candid photo perfectly evoked Wilson's commitment to authenticity. Although the pair considered various color schemes for the stamp portrait, they landed on a warm palette of earth and rust tones that Kessler describes as “honest.” 

Even before she began working on the stamp, Kessler loved Wilson’s plays and went to see them whenever she could. “His writing is like music,” she says. “It just flows.” She was delighted by O’Brien’s final portrait of Wilson, which she believes captures some of that almost ineffable beauty. “I think his brown coat, up against the beige-toned wood, up against the terracotta sky — the rest of the words fail me,” she says. “Tim created a gorgeous painting.”