State of Florida Crawfish Saltwater Fishing Stamp and print 1994/1995 by June Pauline Zent
This is the official print and stamp produced by The Department of Environmental Protection, State of Florida. The remarke in the lower left is a small original of a Seahorse added at customer request.
The purpose of this post is not to pat myself on the back for winning this contest; it is to tell you the story behind the story and why I think it is important to preserve traditions that allow people to be directly evolved through creative effort.They also invite the public to participate, celebrate, and preserve this shared effort.
For many years the State of Florida held an annual contest inviting artist to submit designs for the Crawfish and Snook stamps.The stamps were purchased and placed on licences allowing people to fish for the two endangered species. The contest resembled the State Duck Stamp designs and was a coveted award to win. Five qualified judges were selected to cast votes on the designs then 250 limited edition prints were produced for sale to the public as well as the official stamp. Numbers 1-50 were awarded to the first place winners to sale or keep as they saw fit.Winners were also invited to purchase the matching numbered stamps to complete their 50 very elaborate archival, signed and numbered packages. An impressive envelope with pictures and information about the artist was included. The originals were submitted without signature out of fairness so I had to make an appointment to sign my drawing and 200 prints wearing white gloves. I was so nervous that, as you can see on the print, the signature is wavy.
Back of envelope provided by The Department of Environmental Protection, State of Florida.
I was living in a tiny single wide trailer in a not so good area of Tallahassee, Florida and working as a seamstress in a local sport shirt factory. My autistic son had been accepted in a residential program in Georgia and for the first time in twenty-two years I was alone without the focus of being a caregiver. Three other children were still in college at the Florida State University and the two older ones were making their way through life as adults. I had originals and prints sitting idle because the energy to establish myself as an artist in a new area was beyond even thinking about.
On weekends I sat drawing with colored pencils and wondering what was going to happen to me. My mind was still into taking care of Billy, in addition I knew that my health was failing. The only days when depression did not cover me was the every other Sunday trip to Georgia to visit my son and take him on an outing. The sewing factory saved me on weekdays because I had to concentrate on sewing buttonholes on a thousand shirts passing over my desk each day. Finally I was forced to go to Social Services: yes charity to be able to see a doctor who quizzed me about my employment. He discovered that I was allergic to formaldehyde in the fabric passing over the desk in my face. Knowing the cause of health problems was a relief but I could not quit the only source of income.
The contest was announced on TV. I mused about how winning would allow me to leave the factory and start establishing myself as an artist locally. Even though it was dreamsville I spent the next month working on a small drawing of the Crawfish, better known as the Spiney Lobster. The size was dictated because it had to be resolved down to a stamp. I researched this animal and refered to photos I had taken as Chief lab assistant in college.
The work was submitted and I more or less forgot about it sinking further into depression and ill-health. Then one day I came home to hear the answer machine sitting on the floor beeping. I squatted down and clicked. The voice said, ” This message is for June Zent. Ms. Zent I am calling to congratulate you as the first place winner of the Crawfish Stamp Design for The State of Florida.” There was more but I heard it later because I slumped down on the floor in a heap crying from alternating disbelief and jubilation.
It was my ticket out of pain and I knew that the same night because a call of congratulation came in from a lawyer in South Florida. He wanted four prints with a remarke of my choice and numbers matching the dates of his children’s birthdays.He collected them each year as investments for his kids. The order totaled 1,200.oo and their were more! Of course I quit the factory, went for more help from the doctor,and bask in the glow of the publicity . Long story shorter: I landed a job teaching art, started showing my work, and entering more contest.
You might ask what this story has to do with tradition. Well, the very last contest was the following year . After that the beautiful stamps consisted of a written line on the licence that was computer generated. No more contest for artist. Gone were the gorgeous pictures on stamps and prints for collectors. Gone too was the money that had been generated via the sales used for protection of these endangered species. Who decided to turn this tradition into an automated bureaucracy, and for what : expediency, laziness, or a callous disregard for the people who connect with each other through participation in this tradition? It has been fossilized and it will not be dug up like bones for science.
You can cite many other traditions that have been or are in the process of being stamped out. Will traditions be regulated to stories told of the past? I think that they bond people together and enhance the quality of life provided that hate is not their mission. Do you have a story to share about a lost tradition? I would love to read it. Thank goodness for story tellers!