Stamps and Stories in their own country: Janet Yoder and Robby Rudine of Tui Tui

Artist power couple and 49-year Eastlake residents

What do you get when you put a stamp-maker with a storyteller? Stories with stamp illustrations and stamps that tell stories. Artistic collaboration, attention to the mystical, and a hearty sense of humor are anchors in Robby Rudine and Janet Yoder’s shared life, most of which has been moored in Eastlake.

Below are ten pieces that provide a glimpse into the world of artistamps and mail art, people and places in Eastlake, and Janet and Robby’s fifty-two year partnership. All explanations provided by Robby Rudine (R.R.) and Janet Yoder (J.Y.)

1.) R.R. “We’re not the most linear people you’ll meet so why start at the beginning? I created these stamps to commemorate Janet and me entering our septuagenarian life phase. A friend gave us matching shark masks during the pandemic and that fierce grin also communicates my feelings about the aging process.” 

2.) R.R. “This postal card shows the coat of arms for Tui Tui. The red and yellow lines within the circle comprise a hexagram. Specifically, hexagram #58 in the I Ching: Tui (joy). Thus, the full name of the independent nation we founded in 1985 (and the floating home where we reside) is: The Archipelago of Tui Tui of the Joyous Lake. The motto at the bottom is aLushootseed phrase meaning ‘better it should rain.’ If you’d like to get a closer look, you can find a tile of the same design at Lynn Street Park.” 

3a. and b.) J.Y.: “Loowit / Mt. St Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, and we got married on the 5-year anniversary. The houseboat was still under construction and not yet livable, but that didn’t stop us from having our wedding ceremony aboard it. The eruption and our wedding are connected by the French phrase, “coup de foudre.” The English equivalent is ‘love at first sight’ but the literal translation is a lightning bolt. We both felt that electricity when we met in 1971. As such, a wedding date associated with a powerful natural act felt apropos. The stamp featuring the mountain was issued in 1981 from St. Helens, Oregon. Robby created the stamp of us on our wedding day to honor our 20-year anniversary.” 

4.) R.R.: “I designed the walking fish to help publicize the opening of two parks in Eastlake in 2000: Fairview and Good Turn. Combining elements of land and water, the fish with feet symbolizes the ‘come together’ ethos that is critical for grassroots advocacy. I like seeing the logo in the Eastlake News. For me, the feet pointing in one direction are a reminder of the coordination required to affect change.” 

5.) J.Y.:In 1978, I met Vi taqʷšəblu Hilbertas a student in her Lushootseed class at U.W. As friends and mentees of Vi, an Upper Skagit elder, Robby and I, along with other volunteers, worked with her to promote Lushootseed language and culture. We attended naming ceremonies, Salish language conferences, and observed Treaty Day in the Tulalip Longhouse. While Vi passed away in 2008, many of her projects and passions continue through the nonprofit she founded: Lushootseed Research. Robby created this simulated stamp of Vi for the title page of my book, Where the Language Lives.”  

Editor’s note: Janet Yoder’s book, Where the Language Lives: Vi Hilbert and the Gift of Lushootseed, was published in 2022 by Girl Friday Books and is available at Elliott Bay Bookstore and online booksellers. All proceeds benefit Lushootseed Research. Reflecting on their 30-year friendship, Janet wrote, “I write about Vi to hold her in my heart.” Go to and join the email list to learn about upcoming events.

6.) RR: “This silver jubilee stamp, created in 1987, commemorates the 25-year anniversary of the Seattle Floating Homes Association (FHA). The phrase at the top, ‘The ICIS Year’ refers to the International Council of Independent States. Only countries can join ICIS and Tui Tui was the 15th signatory member. Every year, ICIS members vote on a theme and request all members to issue stamps. In 1987, the theme was housing so honoring the FHA was a no-brainer.”

7.) R.R.: The Museum of Ariststamps (MOA) opened in Nov., 2012. Located in the discontinuous upper province of T’ing, also in Eastlake, MOA doubled the number of artistamp museums in the USA. James Warren Felter was my co-curator and Edward Griffiths constructed the cabinets and display cases. The permanent collection includes thousands of artistamps. The majority of the collection is my own work ranging from 1968 to the present. Eastlake residents hoping to visit MOA may apply for a visa by writing to: MOA Cultural Visas for Tui Tui, c/o N. American Agency, 3125 Eastlake Ave. E., Suite B, Seattle, WA 98102. For full coverage of MOA’s opening, read this 2013 Seattle Star article by Pamela Hobart Carter.

8.) R.R.: “This stamp commemorates the 200 year anniversary of Bastille Day and our favorite place to celebrate it in Eastlake: Boulodrome Park. It’s the best place to break baguette with our neighbors and play petanque. We also like this park because members of the community created it. The stamp is a nod to a linguistic faux pas and a visual cryptozoological pun wherein the French phrase for July 14, ‘quatorze Juillet,’ was misconstrued as ‘Cat Horse Juliette.’”

9.) JY: While Robby designed the artistamp, the drawing of the stack of books is by Brad Burns, who died too early at the age of 27. Brad and I collaborated on a book called Lady Louse Lived There (Lushootseed Press, 1996) based on the Lushootseed story told by Vi Hilbert. I edited, designed, and produced the book while Brad drew most of the illustrations and designed the jacket cover. Brad was exceptionally talented and is dearly missed. The other person referenced on this sheet is Christina Choi.  Christina was the chef and owner of an Eastlake restaurant, 2010 – 2011, called Nettletown (2238 Eastlake Ave.). She passed in 2011 at the age of 34 and was hailed as a “culinary artist” and “nurturer” by The Seattle Times. The Little Free Library located between Otter Bar and Lake Union Mail was named posthumously in her honor.”

RR: “In addition to honoring the legacy of those two creative souls, these stamps bestow a special library rate for books donated to the Little Free Libraries.”    

10.) R.R.: “I created this in 2015 to honor the 100th birthday of our dear friend and houseboat neighbor, Amelia Susman Schultz, PhD.  While she was known professionally as a four-field anthropologist, we called her our liberator because she helped broker a court settlement with our shared ‘lakelord’ in the early 1980s. To celebrate Amelia’s 100th in-style, we commandeered the Virginia V – one of two operational steamers from the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. For most attendees, it was a grand birthday party. For the residents of Tui Tui, it was also a naval mutiny!”

JY: “For me, this is a great example of how one small design references people and places we love and the enduring power of shared experiences.” 

Fast facts: 

  • First artistamp series: created by German Karl Schwesig in 1941 while imprisoned by the Vichy French state
  • Study of postage and stamps: Philately 
  • Artistamps are a subset of Cinderella Philately
  • First country Robby founded with his brother in the 1950s: Flance 
  • Year Robby made his first artistamp: 1968
  • When/where Janet and Robby met: 1971 in London
  • Artistamp museums in USA: 2 
  • First printing of Tui Tui stamps: 1983 
  • Robby and Janet’s names as the benevolent rulers of Tui Tui: Dogfish and Dragonfly
  • Currency in Tui Tui: 1000 P = One Nupee
  • Current price of standard rate mail to/from Tui Tui: 6½ Nupees
  • The year Robby and Janet declared their Eastlake houseboat an independent nation, The Archipelago of Tui Tui of the Joyous Lake: 1985
  • Official Languages of Tui Tui: Lushootseed, English, Acadian French, Cantonese

A version of this article first appeared in the Eastlake News Summer 2023 hard copy edition.

Written by Annie Gustafson

Annie Gustafson is a freelance writer, Eastlake resident, and proud auntie of a handsome Berger Picard named Louis. Contact Annie with story ideas or recs for a good tattoo artist.

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