Stamp of approval

Stamp of approval

Pasadena illustrator Paul Rogers brings Santa to life on 2012 Forever Holiday stamp

By Sara Cardine 12/20/2012

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Paul Rogers’ artwork may not hang on the walls of your home, but odds are good you’ve owned at least one copy of it in recent years — very good, in fact. That’s because Rogers, a Pasadena graphic designer and illustrator, has had his work reprinted 940 million times in the past five years as a freelance designer who’s developed stamp designs for the United States Post Office.

He’s worked on designs commemorating New Orleans jazz and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and created a two-panel design of famous cherry trees in Washington, DC, issued this spring to commemorate the gifting of 3,000 cherry trees to the US by the city of Tokyo in 1912.

For philatelists, aka stamp collectors, Rogers already occupies a sort of rock star status. That status was cemented this fall, however, when his “Santa and Sleigh” stamp design was officially unveiled as the Post Office’s Forever™ Holiday stamp for 2012.

Selection of the Santa and Sleigh Forever stamp design was announced in an Oct. 11 ceremony at New York City’s Midtown East branch on the city’s famed 34th Street. Nationwide, 750 million copies of Rogers’ design have been printed, the largest press run of a stamp in USPS history.

Why so many? Because 2012 is a milestone year for the US Postal Service, according to spokesman Richard Maher. It marks the 50th year the Post Office has issued special holiday-themed postage and the 100th anniversary of Operation Santa, a nationwide letter answering service that allows residents to respond to the letters of needy kids by donating wish-list items.  

“This particular year, we wanted something with Santa on it,” Maher says, explaining the popularity of the Operation Santa program. “We get a lot of letters. It’s fun — it’s a good holiday experience. The person answering [a letter] can actually go out and buy a gift or send a card with a gift card or small toy.”

Operation Santa began in 1912, when a postmaster called for volunteers to help respond to children’s letters to Santa. In the 1940s, local businesses and charitable organizations got involved, donating gifts as well as their time, according to the Post Office’s Web site. This year, anonymous letters written by children to Santa were displayed in 26 cities across the country.

Although Rogers’ stamp designs may be among his more recognized pieces of work, they are certainly not the only accomplishments to come out of a 30-year career. His designs and drawings have been featured in The New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and The New York Times Book Review, as well as on several book covers. Rogers also teaches in the illustration department of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, where he himself earned a degree in 1980.

Rogers, a Glendale native, is also the artistic genius behind two children’s books. A longtime lover of jazz, he worked on a 2005 illustrated book for kids with friend and noted musician Wynton Marsalis, titled “Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits.” The pair teamed up again to create another book, “Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure,” released in October.

It was “Jazz ABZ” on display in a gift shop in New York’s Kennedy Center that initially caught the eye of USPS Art Director Howard Paine, who was browsing to kill time before a concert.

Paine apparently liked what he saw; the next day, he contacted Rogers about creating a commemorative design for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. That stamp, issued in September 2009, was Rogers’ first. When Paine called the artist to see if he’d be interested in creating a concept for a Forever Holiday Stamp design, Rogers jumped at the chance.

“The United States Postal Service is kind of a mystery,” he says. “You have to get their attention through other ways. This whole business is like that in so many ways, people seeing the right thing at the right time.”

Rogers set to work on an image of Santa, finding himself initally drawn to the colorful, avuncular versions portrayed in the mid-century “Little Golden Books” collection for children, with which he’d grown up as a child. That version got a modern-day makeover, bringing the Santa and Sleigh design to vivid life.

The design seems to be popular among collectors, who regularly mail copies to Rogers to sign (they always use exact postage, he notes.) But among Rogers’ biggest fans is mom Gerry Rogers, to whom he dedicated “Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!”

Still a Glendale resident, she remembers when a young Paul traced pictures from books and spent hours on end sketching different creations, even drawing in front of the television.

“It’s the only thing he ever wanted to do from about 4 or 5 years old,” she recalls.

Even though Gerry Rogers makes a special point to purchase at least 30 or 40 of each new stamp design that comes out and sticks them on whatever mail she can, she admits even she cannot keep up with her son’s ever-expanding portfolio of work.

“Sometimes I’ll open up the newspaper and there will be an editorial with an illustration and I’ll see his name on it,” says Gerry Rogers, one of a small group of art lovers who actually does have original Paul Rogers works hanging on the walls of her home.

“To tell you the truth, I can’t keep up with all the things he does,” she adds.

To learn more about Paul Rogers and his work, visit paulrogersstudio.com. For more information on the USPS’s Letters to Santa and Operation Santa programs, visit usps.com or beanelf.org.

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