The US Postal Service, it seems, is going the way of the rotary phone, hi-fi and horse and buggy. Americans send less and less mail every year, and right here in Westport our post office has been downsized to a shopping center storefront.
And when was the last time you cared what a stamp looked like?
But before “snail mail” vanishes like 8-tracks, let’s look back at the heyday of postage stamps.
The Westport Historical Society is helping us do just that.
Its current exhibit — running through December 31 — is a thorough, and very visual, collection of the 17 Westport artists who designed over 164 U.S. stamps, between 1959 and 1998.
That’s right. For nearly 4 decades, Westport — our creative talents, and our hometown scenes (of schools, streets, even our post office) — were responsible for billions of stamps, licked and affixed to just as many pieces of mail and packages sent round the world.
Westport was already known as an artists’ colony in 1957, when Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield formed the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. According to the WHS, too many congressmen and senators had been pushing the Post Office to issue too many stamps, with “mundane” designs.
One of the 3 original members of the committee was Arnold Copeland, president of Westport Artists, Inc. He gave commissions to artists he knew — including Westport legends Harold von Schmidt and Stevan Dohanos.
Dohanos — who had painted murals for post offices beginning in the Great Depression (and continuing through the 1960s) — had also depicted local post office scenes for his Saturday Evening Post covers. He used Westport — and Westporters — as models, and continued to do so on his stamps.
In 1974, Dohanos became chairman of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. He was responsible for over 300 stamp commissions — “shrewdly selecting artists, in Westport and beyond, by their particular styles and affinity for the subject matter at hand.”
The Historical Society exhibit is intriguing. All 17 Westport artists are represented. They include Miggs Burroughs — the youngest designer ever of a US stamp.
That’s on display — as is a thank-you note from Rose Mary Woods, Richard Nixon’s secretary, after Miggs sent the president a 1st-day cover of his 8-cent “Prevent Drug Abuse” stamp.
In a wonderful twist of fate, Miggs later drew the “Nixon resigns” cover for Time magazine.
Also at the WHS exhibit: the 15 stamps designed by Ed Vebell. Still working in his Westport studio in his 90s, he depicted many local scenes in his works. Including a series set at the Westport Post Office.
It’s a fascinating exhibit, not to be missed.
Feel free to forward this “post” on to everyone who may be interested.
Or print it out, and mail it to them.