Art at the Post Office

There’s been a lot of news this week about saving the United States Post Office, a service that many of us take for granted. The USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

Many wonderful artists and their art works are represented on stamps and the process by which they receive the honor is an interesting one.

Even when cool heads prevail, there has been controversy over some stamp designs, like the 1930 Graf Zeppelin stamps, many of which were unsold and, ultimately, destroyed by the Post Office.

Every year about twenty new designs are chosen by a Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) to be placed on commemorative stamps. Up to fifteen volunteers of the CSAC are appointed by the Postmaster General to approve designs. The current members of the CSAC include a former Postmaster General and current and past university professors. They meet for four two-day sessions every year.

Tens of thousands of designs are submitted yearly. It takes about three years from the time the CSAC reviews the design to its final production on a stamp.

There are criteria for choosing subjects and designs: A person will be considered for a stamp only if he or she has been dead for two years. The only exception to this is a former U.S. President, who can appear on a stamp one year after his or her death.

The subject must be American or related to America in some way. This can include a non-American-born person who has had a significant effect on American history of society, like Winston Churchill or Bugs Bunny, who appeared on a 32-cent stamp in 1997. Historical events can be honored every fifty years.

Robert Indiana 1928-2018

In the summer of 1965, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Robert Indiana to design its Christmas card. He submitted his LOVE  design in four color possibilities. The museum selected the red, blue, and green version, which became one of its most popular designs.

In 1973, the U.S. Postal Service put the LOVE design on a postage stamp. It became so popular that more than 300 million stamps were printed.

The USPS has continued to print Love stamps by a variety of artists who submit designs every year.

Robert Indiana
Picasso, 1974
Oil on canvas
60 x 50 inches
Signed and dated
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Robert Indiana
Picasso, 1974
Oil on canvas
60 x 50 inches
Signed and dated
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Thomas Hart Benton 1889-1975

In 1971, the Post Office Department issued a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of Missouri’s statehood. On the stamp is an image from a mural at the Truman Library done by Thomas Hart Benton.

Thomas Hart Benton
Going West
Oil on canvas laid down on board
20 ½ x 41 ¼ inches
Signed
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Jacob Lawrence 1917-2000

A detail from Dixie Café by Jacob Lawrence, was issued in 2005 on a stamp commemorating the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Jacob Lawrence
New York in Transit 1, 1996
Gouache and pencil on paper
Sheet size:13 x 42 inches; 26 1/4 x 47 1/4 inches
For sale at Surovek Gallery

“If at times my productions do not express the conventionally beautiful,” Lawrence said, “there is always an effort to express the universal beauty of man’s continuous struggle to lift his social position and to add dimension to his spiritual being.”

Ellsworth Kelly 1923-2015

Ellsworth Kelly’s new Forever Stamps, 2019

In honor of what would have been Ellsworth Kelly’s 96th birthday, the United States Postal Service released a set of 20 postage stamps bearing his works.

Ellsworth Kelly
Colored Paper Image XVl, 1976
Pressed paper pulp in colors
32.5 x 31 inches
Edition: 23/24
Signed lower right, numbered lower left
For sale at Surovek Gallery

Please contact us if you would like more information about the works of the fine artists available at Surovek Gallery.

References:
Nora McGreevy. Abandoned Artwork Discovered Beneath Pablo Picasso Painting. Smithsonian Magazine. July 23, 2020.
Jillian Steinhauer. Post-Office Worker Befuddled by Abstract Expressionism. Hyperallergic. September 14, 2012.
Eileen Kinsella & Caroline Goldstein. The US Postal Service Is in Dire Straits. Help Them Out by Buying Some of These 12 Fantastic Art-Themed Stamps. artnetnews. August 18, 2020.
USPS Stamps Blog. Publisher John H. Johnson and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. July 2, 2012.
Caroline Goldstein. Are These New Ellsworth Kelly Stamps the Most Beautiful Stamps Ever? Yes, They Are. artnetnews. May 31, 2019..
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