New Bonsai Stamps Coming Monday Have Local Ties

January 22, 2012

The United States Postal Service is issuing a brand new series of Forever Stamps Monday, January 23 that were created right here in Hawaii.   The art comes from the Big Island—and reflects an Asian culture that dates back centuries.

The series of five  bonsai stamps will be unveiled in an official “first day issue” rollout  at the Sheppard Garden Center in McKinley Park in Sacramento, California.   Sacramento’s bonsai clubs are the oldest in the country, one founded in 1946. They were founded by Japanese Americans who settled there after being interned during World War II.  When they returned, their agricultural land was gone, so they settled in urban centers and started the clubs as a way to recapture their culture.

Hilo artist John D. Dawson got the call from the United States Postal Service a couple of years ago—asking him to create the stamps.   He says he wasn’t an expert in bonsai when he got the call, so he started visiting bonsai shows and gardens in Hilo and reading a lot of books.  He selected five different styles and had them reviewed by Ethel Kessler,  the Art Director for the project.    The five bonsai on the stamps are  a Sierra juniper, a trident maple, a black pine, azalea, and a banyan.  They’re in different styles appropriate to the plants.

Ron Pigram with Satsuki Aikokai Bonsai Club in Sacramento says his club, which specializes in azalea bonsai, is thrilled at the drawings on the stamps.  He said they’re beautiful, and they’re accurate.   He said the bonsai clubs are planning to have displays of all different kinds of bonsai at the stamps’ unveiling on Monday.

Dawson has been creating stamps for the post office since the 1980s–American Cats, Idaho statehood, flowering trees, and the Nature of America series.  The final set in that series featured a Hawaiian rain forest, and was introduced at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in 2010.

Despite having drawn so many stamps, Dawson is excited at this honor.  He says he was delighted the stamps will be Forever Stamps–which never expire.  He also says there’s nothing better for him than seeing his paintings out there on envelopes.

Dawson is also the Artist in Residence for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  His work is on display in the Kilauea Visitors Center–he created the large 2 foot by 4 foot panels that depict the wide variety of life inside the park.  He’s also created guide signs and more.  Dawson has worked for several of the national parks, and also has done work for National Geographic and many other publications.

The stamps are selling in books of five for 45 cents per stamp.

An interview with John Dawson is airing today, Sunday, January 22, at 6:30 a.m. on KKOA 107.7 fm and online,, and at 8 a.m. on LAVA 105.3 fm and online at  The interview will also be posted here at, down on the right for downloading or online listening.

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