17 Westport Artists Who Mailed It In

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.

Stevan Dohanos spent decades designing stamps, and painting murals for post offices. He often used Westport’s post office as a model.

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.

Von Schmidt designed the famed 4-cent (!) stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the Pony Express.

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.

Miggs Burroughs’ display, at the Westport Historical Society.

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.


4 responses to “17 Westport Artists Who Mailed It In

  1. Susan Walton Wynkoop, President Westport Historical Society

    Thank you for this article, Dan! It is a fascinating exhibit because we have a fascinating exhibit committee. Please join with us in our many volunteer opportunities at WHS and also become a member of this outstanding organization and you too will be proud to be a part of our amazing Town. Call 203-222-1424 and find out more about us and visit this exhibit!

  2. How blessed we are to live in a town with so much talent! A big thanks to Leo Cirino! It was due to his passion for these stamps that he reached out to WHS to display them. With the help of Eve Potts, Leo’s beautiful stamps in this exhibit are in a commemorative book called “U.S. Postage Stamps Born in Westport”, which is available for purchase in the gift shop. We’re truly proud and honored to have had Leonard Fisher curate the show and with the skills and expertise of our exhibits committee, we’re able to put an exhibit together that can only be summed up by “WOW”. Dan, thank you for sharing this exhibit with your readers and everyone is welcome to come by as the show is up through December 31st. Make WHS part of your visit downtown and see for yourself what all the buzz is about.
    Susan Gold, Executive Director
    Westport Historical Society

  3. Let’s not for a minute forget Miggs Burroughs’ part in both the exhibit and in his graphic design of “U.S. Postage Stamps Born in Westport”. Miggs quietly gives and gives! Thank you, Miggs.The book has full-color images of all the stamps as well as biographies of the artists and fascinating stories about how the stamps connect to Westport. The book makes a great Christmas gift!
    Stop by WHS and buy a copy.

  4. Gwen Dwyer Lechnar

    Well, it looks like a very nice exhibit.But oh how I wish the postal service could be saved! It’s what everyone loves to decry and make sport of, but it is really an excellent bargain and to have it going the way of the prisons they’ve “privatized” is a shame.You don’t miss your water til your well runs dry–believe me, I know, I lived with the Mexican postal “system” for 6+ yrs. I was so happy to have a mailbox again, on returning to the U.S.