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The Art of the Stamp

May 10 - July 31, 2005


(above: John Dawson, Pacific Coast Rainforest (Nature of America Series), gouache on paper. Art director: Ethel Kessler. First day of issue: March 29, 2000. When John Dawson begins preliminary sketches, he faces a design challenge that many of his colleagues do not: the entire painting must work as a wide view, but each stamp must be beautiful when used alone on an envelope as well.


Elvis is in the building and so are Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Cary and Ulysses Grant, Joe Louis, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, George Washington, Dracula, Frankenstein, dinosaurs and trains, planes and automobiles. (right: Michael J. Deas, Marilyn Monroe (Legends of Hollywood Series), oil on paper, Art Director: Carl T. Herrman, First day of issue: June 1, 1995. For this controversial first stamp in the Legends of Hollywood Series, eight artists were commissioned to produce color concept sketches. To create the final oil painting, Michael J. Deas used a studio photo from the early 1950s, although he made some modifications: Monroe's hand and shoulder are composites based on other photographs)

All of these and many more are in The Art of the Stamp, an exhibition of 100 original works of art by 55 artists, who were chosen to create postage stamps. The exhibit opened its national tour at The R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 10 and will continue there through July 31, 2005.

The exhibition was drawn from the collection of the United Postal Service by the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in partnership with the Postal Service. It was organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service which has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years.

Few works of art enjoy as vast an audience as American stamps. At their most basic, stamps are simple proofs of postage. But with the addition of graphic designs, they become something much greater as will be seen in this extraordinary exhibit.

These miniature masterpieces, whose designs span the 1960s to the present, reflect the process of creating American stamps as new subjects and designs are explored. The exhibit is arranged in groupings featuring well-known events in American history, American heroes, the American scene, sports and athletics, technology and transportation, nature, and arts and entertainment.

Artists who have designed stamps for the Postal Service and who are featured in this exhibition include Michael Deas (Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean,), Al Hirschfeld (Stars of the Silent Screen series), Mark Hess (Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant), C.F. Payne (Ethel Merman) and Jerry Pinkney (Sojourner Truth).

U.S. Postal Service Manager of Stamp Development, Terry McCaffrey, said, "The Postal Service is proud of its tradition in partnering with the leading illustrators and designers of the day in developing some of the most beautiful and innovative works of postage stamp art being produced. The successful results of these collaborations are proudly displayed in this wonderful exhibit that will travel around the country."

The Smithsonian National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the engaging history of the nation's mail service and showcasing the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world.

The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service says

The The subject matter depicted in the Art of the Stamp runs the gamut of American history and culture, arts and entertainment, and science and nature-from birds to Broadway musicals, movie stars to the military, flowers to transportation. The exhibition also affords a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of how stamp designs are developed, from pencil sketches to final artwork. Preliminary sketches and behind-the-scenes material for other stamps show the complexity of the process.
One of the most famous stamps in recent memory is the "Elvis Presley," the most popular stamp of all time with record sales of 500 million. The Art of the Stamp features the original art for this now-iconic stamp along with four preliminary concept portraits. Also presented are two original Norman Rockwell pieces commissioned by the United States Postal Service, one of the few times these two works have been publicly displayed. This collection from the USPS achieves what President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who helped design several stamps, saw as the chief aim of stamp art: It "dispels boredom, enlarges our vision, broadens our knowledge, makes us better citizens, and in innumerable ways enriches our lives.

Tour itinerary

May 10 - July 31, 2005
R. W. Norton Art Gallery
Shreveport, LA
August 20, 2005 - November 13, 2005
Durham Western Heritage Museum
Omaha, NE
December 3, 2005 - January 26, 2006
Midwest Museum of American Art
Elkhart, IN
January 27, 2007 - April 22, 2007
Plains Art Museum
Fargo, ND


(above: Robert M. Cunningham , Olympic Summer Games: Runners, acrylic on paper. Art director: Bradbury Thompson. First day of issue: September 28, 1979. Artists commissioned to create new Olympics stamps typically have to find fresh ways to depict familiar subjects. Robert M. Cunningham solves this problem by focusing on the mesmerizing forms and shapes of three runners frozen in time.


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The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) quote is from the Service's web site. SITES began developing and circulating exhibitions in 1952. Since then, it has put more than 1500 exhibitions on the road, making it the world's largest traveling exhibition service.

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