Canada has a long history of artistic postage stamps like the ones pictured.

Canada has a long history of artistic postage stamps like the ones pictured.

Art Gallery at the Post

Ron Tabbert looks at some of the art that has been issued on Canada’s postage stamps.

  • Apr. 13, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Ron Tabbert


The Art Gallery of Golden never ceases to amaze with one exciting exhibit after another, and such a variety of artisanal products for sale.  Anyone who doesn’t stop in at least a few times a year truly misses a rich element of our community.

Though it might not reach the same caliber, I’d like to prepare an exhibit of Canadian art that has been issued on Canada’s postage stamps.  As the years have passed, art on stamps has become a popular topical among collectors, and postal administrations have made an annual art stamp a staple among their issues.  Canada Post has expanded its art series to include the work of great photographers.  Ask for this set of ten stamps at our local Post.

Depending on how broadly one wants to define the topic, most early stamps could be considered an art gallery because they were all based on portraits of royalty or events such as Fathers of Confederation, painted by Robert Harris and issued as a stamp in 1917.  Of course, back then, stamps were in one colour.

And every stamp for nearly a century was hand-engraved on a steel plate, which could be considered an art form in itself.

The first stamps issued to specifically feature art works themselves was a 1967 set based on works by the “Group of Seven.”  They are familiar to a good many Canadians.  They celebrated our nation with paintings showing natural wonders and settings.  Our centennial brought the issuance of seven mid- to high-values, with one from each of “the seven.”  Being a farm boy and enjoying the mountains, my favourites are John Ensor’s painting of grain elevators in the snow titled Summer Stores, and Lawren Harris’s Bylot Island with its icy mountain inlet.

Mary Irqqiquq’s two soapstone sculptures were used for the 1968 Christmas stamps, and the centennial of the birth of painter Marc-Aurele de Fiy Suzor Cote was commemorated in 1969 with his painting Returning from the Harvest Field.  It shows a couple carrying grain sheaves on their backs.  This was the beginning of full colour art stamps, doing more justice to the work of artists.

The fiftieth anniversary of the “Group of Seven” was marked in 1970 with a painting by Arthur Lismer, and the next year Emily Carr was feted with a reproduction of Big Raven.  From that time, many artists were featured on a regular basis:  Paul Kane and other art of native culture (1971), Cornelius Krieghoff (1972), J.E.H. MacDonald (1973), and Tom Thompson (1977).   A variety of art work used for Christmas stamps introduced another art form to philately: stained glass window art.

Several of Robert Bateman’s wildlife paintings became the basis for a series in the late 1970s.  He made a presentation in Golden some years ago and autographed one of my covers (envelope with stamp and cancel) of his bison stamp.

Two sheets of twelve stamps printed for Canada Day in 1982 and 1984 featured a painting by an artist from each province and territory.

Three large-size stamps issued in 1981 just to show the art alone became the basis for an annual feature of Canada’s stamp program to this day.  The set showed At Baie Saint-Paul by Marc-Aurele Fortin, Self Portrait by Fred Varley, and Untitlted No. 6 by Paul-Emile Borduas.

A 1988 large-size, international rate stamp showed Ozias Leduc’s The Young Reader.  Fourteen stamps in the series were issued over the next dozen years.  In addition, there was a “Group of Seven” set in 1995, a 1998 modernist set for The Automatistes and a sheet of six by Jean-Paul Riopelle in 2004.

A new format appeared in 2004, and as you’ve heard me say before, Canada Post used collectors to improve the bottom line.  But they are beautiful stamps and pay well-deserved tribute to the artist.  One stamp is issued at the basic letter rate and one or two others are issued either at the international rate and/or the United States rate.

These have included sets for Jean-Paul Lemieux, Homer Watson, Dorothy Knowles, Mary Pratt, Jack Bush, and Daphne Odjig.  In 2008, the “art” was photographs taken by the famous photographer Yousef Karsh, and in 2012 sculptures by Joe Fafard were featured.

These are a good beginning of an art exhibit on stamps.  For a look and other examples, join the Golden Stamp Club at Trinity Lutheran Church, 3:00pm, Sunday, April 21.  Questions?  Ron at 250-344-5939 or .