Telling the Story of a Nation

American Children

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The 32-cent stamp featuring "The Westwood Children" by Joshua Johnson was issued August 27, 1998.
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The 32-cent stamp featuring "Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog" by Ammi Phillips was issued August 27, 1998.

In 1998, the Postal Service honored twenty artists by depicting their artwork on stamps in the Four Centuries of American Art Issue. Howard Paine, a USPS art director, designed this issue to illustrate the diversity of American artists and their subjects from the 1600s to the present day. He chose a variety of both horizontally and vertically designed works for inclusion in the final product, but decided to make all the works square shaped. To accommodate his plans, Paine had to crop many of the paintings, being careful which parts of the paintings he represented.

To capture the lifestyle of the common American, many artists painted children. One such painting is Joshua Johnson's "The Westwood Children," produced in 1807. This painting shows three children standing near a dog and a window. The artist, Joshua Johnson, is thought to be one of the first professional artists of African ancestry to produce work in America. Paine had originally planned to use a painting by Thomas Cole instead of Johnson’s work, but eventually decided against it. The inclusion of "The Westwood Children" helped highlight the diversity of American artists. For the stamp, the dog and window were cropped, showing only the three children. Despite the cropping, the artist’s style is still evident. He typically painted families from Baltimore and used distinctly outlined figures to depict his subjects.

The painting by Ammi Phillips, “Girl in a Red Dress with cat and dog,” is another image of a child featured on a postage stamp in the Four Centuries of American Art Issue. Phillips lived in New England and this piece shows his typical style. The dog from the original painting was removed when the work was cropped to fit into the stamp-sized space. Howard Paine, the designer of the issue claimed, “I chose the painting because I wanted some bright color, and the red dress is just a knockout.”

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The 1998 Four Centuries of American Art Issue sheet of twenty depicts Johnson and Phillips's works along with many other stamps explored in this virtual exhibition.