A Brooklyn artist has put his “stamp” on the Lunar New Year, drawing on his family background and memories of the traditions of the Chinese holiday to create the images that are featured on the series of 12 stamps for the United States Postal Service.
Kam Mak’s Year of the Rabbit stamp, which was unveiled at McKinley Intermediate School, on Fort Hamilton Parkway at 73rd Street last month, illustrates Mak’s unusual take on the assignment.
Rather than focusing on the individual animal, Mak, who lives in Carroll Gardens, integrates it into a lush image that encapsulates one of the facets of the annual celebration.
The fourth stamp in the series is a two-dimensional sketch of a rabbit in gold adorns a painting of a pair of luscious, plump kumquats, a lucky food often given to friends and loved ones as part of the yearly festivities.
“I wanted to tell a richer story about the Lunar New Year,” said Mak. “and include iconic Lunar New Year elements that surrounded me growing up.”
Thus, the 2009 stamp commemorating the Year of the Ox featured a gorgeously intricate lion, as seen in the classic Lion Dance, and the 2010 stamp for the Year of the Tiger highlighted a cluster of leggy narcissus, an archetype representing the rebirth that is part of the promise of the New Year.
Mak has been a freelance illustrator since 1984 and is an associate professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, who’s his work includes two children’s books, “My Chinatown,” which he wrote and illustrated from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy, and “Dragon Prince” and “The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies,” which he illustrated.
Mak has lived in Brooklyn since 1992, though he admits returning to his mother’s house in Manhattan for Lunar New Year celebrations with his family, explaining that it is traditional in Chinese culture for families to celebrate holidays with the husband’s family.
Other times, however, he can be found with wife, Mari Takabayashi, son Dylan, 13, and daughter, Luca, 16, biking in Prospect Park, swimming in the Red Hook pool, enjoying Coney Island, or eating a family meal at one of the Cantonese restaurants on Avenue U.
Mak, who emigrated to the United States from Hong Hong in 1971, landed in Carroll Gardens almost by accident, but, he said, it was a fortunate accident that he savors every day.
“There’s not the hustle and bustle of Manhattan,” Mak said. “It’s more peaceful. I know all my neighbors. They look out for me and for my kids, and I look out for them and their kids. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”