Painted Leaves

We are pleased to release our Painted Leaves issue in this, the third in our series showcasing the Art of Pitcairn.
Among the crafts of the Pacific, the rare and delicate art of leaf painting is unique to Pitcairn.

The painted leaf process, shown across this setenant strip, is time-consuming and requiring considerable skill and care.  Firstly, the leaves are picked green and stored covered in water in an earthenware jar for between 4 and 6 weeks.  A stone in the jar helps ensure that they remain submerged.  In what is a “smelly” process, the leaves are then washed in fresh water with the green slime being patted out from the leaf’s membranes.   Each leaf is then washed with a little soap, rinsed and placed in a niau basket to dry.

When dry, the leaf which has curled in the drying process is opened out and ironed flat.  The paints used are normally oil based, thinned with a little kerosine for easier application.

When painting, the leaf is held so that the artist’s brush can accurately flick paint on to this delicate ‘canvas’.  The paint soaks right through the leaf.  After drying and after many hours of work, the leaves are frequently mounted on black paper.

Painted leaf designs may include floral designs including roses or hibiscus, fish, butterflies, The Bounty, or an outline of the island.

Three basic leaf types are shown on the setenant strip.  There is the long, slender Soapseed (Sapindus saponaria),  the Hattie leaf (Bauhinia monandra) – hoof shaped and the more rounded Tapau (Homalium tapau).

We are particularly pleased to feature two Pitcairn ladies who were both experts in this craft, on these stamps.  Bernice Christian who passed away aged 94 in 1993, maintained her skill until very late in life.  Bernice is shown on the $1.50 stamp.  The $3.00 stamp features Charlotte Christian in her younger days.  Charlotte’s skills have been passed on to her daughter Carol and granddaughters Darralyn and Charlene.  The community lost Charlotte in 1995.

We are grateful to Meralda Warren of Pitcairn for the photographic reference material from which we were able to produce this stamp issue.  Meralda has also provided the above description of the process involved in the production of Pitcairn’s painted leaves with contributions from her mother Mavis.

Technical Details

Release Date :         18 August 2003
Denominations :       40c, 80c, $1.50, $3.00 (4 stamps)
                              Setenant strip with central tab
Stamp Design :        Glenn Douran, Brisbane Australia
Printer :                   Secura Printers Singapore
Process   :               Offset Lithography
Paper :                    102 gsm Postmaster gummed paper
Stamp Size :             24mm x 43.5mm
Pane :                      2 x panes 25 stamps (5 x 5 strips)
Perforation Gauge :  13.5 per 2cm
First Day Cover  :     $6.70