Angels have signified new beginnings in the Bible and other religious writings for at least 2,000 years. This year, as we stand at the threshold of a new millennium, angels again send their message of hope to the world on Canada Post's 1999 Christmas stamps. The stamps, in denominations of $.46, $.55 and $.95 will be available in panes of 50 as well as in booklets of 10, 5 and 5 respectively.
The inspiration for this year's Christmas stamps is the Canadian art of the Victorian era, a prolific age of artistic creativity stretching from 1837 to 1901. In those years, advances in printing techniques made the mass reproduction of colourful prints possible, and widely affordable. Images of angels soon became among the most popular household decorations particularly at Christmas.
Canadian artwork dating from the Victorian era stimulated the imaginations of co-designers Kosta Tsetsekas and Bonne Zabolotney. They aimed to reflect the popular images from a romantic period when angels were depicted like Victorian children posing as Renaissance cherubs.
In selecting Tannis Hopkins to illustrate the project, Tsetsekas and Zabolotney were choosing an artist they had worked with extensively in the past. Hopkins selected the soft shading of coloured pencils to achieve the lithographed look. "The muted colours are indicative of the Victorian era," says Zabolotney, "but we also chose them to counteract the sensational and highly saturated colours we have come to associate with the commercialization of Christmas."
A brief history of angels
The contribution of angels to the story of Christ's birth and the sentimental traditions that grew out of Victorian Christmas celebrations have made these cherished winged beings an enduring symbol of the season.
Though references to angels predate Christianity, it was not until the fourth century that angels were represented as having wings. The modern concept of angels with wavy hair, halos and white robes emerged two centuries later, and has been influenced since by several artistic and cultural trends.
It was in the early Renaissance, sometime during the 14th century, that artists began giving angels feminine and childlike features. During the Victorian era, the more secular images of rosy-cheeked cherubs became popular symbols of hope and encouragement.
"Angels were depicted in a very idealized, romantic way," says Tannis. "Everything about them from their wide eyes to their rosebud lips evoked feelings of goodness and innocence, and contradicted the reality that, for many people, life was harsh."
Inexpensive art prints of cherubs and children became among the most popular forms of home decoration and the angel, combining characteristics of both, among the most memorable images of the time.
The Creative Team
Kosta Tsetsekas is creative director of Signals Design Group Inc. of Vancouver. He has earned numerous awards for well over 200 internationally published projects. Kosta designed his first stamp for Canada Post in 1982. Since then, his stamp designs for Canada Post have included the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, The World Council of Churches Assembly, Prominent Canadians and AIDS.
Bonne Zabolotney is also with Signals Design Group Inc. This is her second design for Canada Post; with artist Susan Point, she designed the Nunavut issue. Raised in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, she studied in Calgary at the Alberta College of Art & Design and, after graduation, moved to Vancouver where, in addition to her commercial work, she teaches at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.
Illustrator Tannis Hopkins grew up in Montreal. She studied at Dawson College and Concordia University and continued her studies at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. She has lived in Vancouver since 1981 using her illustration skills for both freelance and agency work. This is her first project for Canada Post.