Works by 17 Westport artists has traveled across the nation -- and around the world numerous times -- but until now the celebration of their remarkable achievement was lost in the mail.
Fortunately for art lovers, history buffs and philatelists, the Westport Historical Society has opened a new exhibit to showcase the 166 stamps designed by Westport artists.
The exhibit, "U.S. Postage Stamps by Westport Artists," opened Friday at historical society headquarters, 25 Avery Place, along with a new companion display, "The Road to 06880: Colonial Era to Present."
"This is a very singular exhibition, especially for the town of Westport," said Leonard Everett Fisher, longtime local artist, author and illustrator of 10 U.S. postage stamps. "I say singular because there is no other community in the United States ... that can lay claim to such an achievement."
Fisher, who curated the exhibit, which runs through the end of the year, is one of the artists who had been recommended by the late artist Steven Dohanos for a stamp commission. Dohanos, a widely known artist lived in Westport many decades, was the chairman of the Postal Service Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. Consequently, he was able to enlist the finest work of local friends and colleagues, and expand the limits of stamps as their own art form.
"Without Steven Dohanos you would not have had stamps that look like this," said Fisher, whose own stamps include a striking Halloween-like image of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, done in 1974.
"It's an honor," Fisher said, surrounded by enlargements of the entire Westport stamp catalogue, "because the artists here have become part of American history."
Another artist, Charles Reid, did a family planning stamp in 1972. Dohanos had called him at the last minute after the first design by someone else was rejected. "Steve asked me to see what I could do ... He said, `We're really in a bind with this stamps. Can you come up with something?' " Reid recalled. "That's why he used so many Westport artists. He just used local talent when he could."
Leo Cirino, a local writer and stamp enthusiast, was instrumental in assembling the stamps exhibit. For decades, he worked on a book regarding Westport's stamp history, and his personal collection plays a key role in the exhibit.
"I conceived of this 40 years ago, and I've been working on it ever since," he said.
"It's amazing to look at the various style of stamps here," said Alan Turri of Westport, who was touched by the nostalgia of seeing many memorable stamps from the past. "It's very iconic."
Walt Reed, 95, created a whole page of state flag stamps, which were displayed at Westport's downtown Post Office, now closed, for many years before being stolen.
"It was on display there for a long time," he said. "I felt honored that I was in the Post Office, and not as a wanted poster."
"There's nobody doing this anymore," said Larry Untermeyer, co-curator for the exhibit. "It's part of history."
Likewise, the "The Road to 06880: Colonial Era to Present" exhibit traces the evolution of mail delivery in coastal New England.
"We're blessed as an organization to be a magnet for the talent in this town," said Susan Gold, the WHS executive director.
"It was a great honor to be chosen," said longtime local artist Howard Munce, 96, whose lived in town more than 75 years and designed a stamp in 1971.
"It's a national thing," Munce said. "It's going to live forever. It's a hell of an honor. I can't think of a bigger one."