Alumni Notes


Stamps of Success

There's a good chance that you've seen the artwork of Steve Buchanan '71, if not handled it. His illustrations have been featured in three popular series of stamps issued by the United States Postal Service. The first, showcasing tropical plants, was a bestseller, while his second series--insects and spiders--was the sixth-greatest revenue generator in postal history. His newest stamps pay tribute to carnivorous plants.

Buchanan, who didn't discover his talent until the age of 40, is among a few select artists who are commissioned repeatedly by the postal service. Trained as a classical pianist at the Conservatory, he finished graduate studies at the University of Texas, then joined the music faculty at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he taught for 11 years. "Art really wasn't on my radar screen," he says. But in 1983 he married Rita Shuster '71, a naturalist and gardening writer, who gave him a book titled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which suggests that artistically inclined people who believe they cannot draw need simply to understand how images are coaxed from the mind. Intrigued, Buchanan diligently completed the exercises at the end of each chapter. "By the time I got to the end of the book, I could draw things. I was really astonished," he says.

Inspired, Buchanan enrolled in art classes at James Madison. In 1987 he quit his job. He and Rita moved to Connecticut, where he continued his coursework at the University of Hartford's School of Art, specializing in botanical illustration. One of his first professional assignments was to illustrate a Scientific American article on water hyacinths. He went on to collaborate with his wife on magazine inserts, botanical directories, and gardening books.

Through a "completely bizarre" chain of occurrences, Buchanan's work was recommended to the postal service, which added him to its list of botanical artists. Today, he has a studio above his garage, where he creates his illustrations on the computer via a stylus and digitalized pad. His fourth series of stamps, devoted to reptiles and amphibians, will be released next October.

-­Courtney Mauk '03


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