Stamp of Approval

A tubebender/designer fulfills a great honor
March 11 neon stamp.jpg

Michael Flechtner is owner of Flectroneonics (Van Nuys, CA)
In 2009, I was contacted by Phil Jordan, who identi¬fied himself as a Falls Church, VA, art director under contract with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Familiar with my art via his son and a few Museum of Neon Art (MONA) postcards, he asked about my interest in creating designs for a neon-themed postage stamp.
Phil thought neon would make a great stamp medium, and he sent me a mock-up of a stamp that incorporated a piece of my artwork. I wrote back that it looked like my work was done and told him where to send the money!
He proposed that I devise three designs for a stamp with a “celebrate” theme. I would have complete freedom, even whether or not to use the word. I signed a contract with the USPS to begin this design phase.
I started out thinking about what and how we Americans celebrate: weddings, birthdays, achievements and holidays. What imagery would show celebration? I also began to play with the word itself.
I submitted my three designs, in the form of colored-pencil renderings, and Phil presented them to the stamp committee at a regular meeting. Phil said the committee liked the drawing with fireworks and the word “celebrate.” He asked if I would willingly remove some of the imagery and focus more on the fireworks.
As I reworked the design, I understood how fireworks and balloons universally signify celebration. I also surmised that whatever gives fireworks their amazing color and light very closely aligns to the plasma in neon tubes … what a perfect marriage of materials and visual effects!
After I submitted my reworked design, Phil requested a final simplification … to remove a stylized cityscape. He also said half of the stamp committee absolutely loved the design with no concern about its translation into neon. The other half approved the design, but questioned a successful conversion. Phil proposed to the committee that I proceed, adapt the design to neon and, based on the outcome, they would make the final decision. The committee approved the expenditure for the neon work.
I bent the neon, matched the colors to my original drawing and assembled the “stamp.” Its final dimensions measured approximately 33 x 44 in., directly proportionate to the stamp. I had digital photographs taken, which we burned onto CDs and sent to Phil and the committee. The formerly reluctant committee members wanted to congratulate me.
I was asked to brighten some of the tubes to achieve uniform brightness. I did this, re-photographed the work and sent the digital files off to Washington. The final images were approved, and Phil and his design firm pursued the final stamp design.
My contract required the original artwork to be delivered to the Washington, DC USPS, so, in May, I loaded the stamp and three other neon artworks into the rear seat and trunk of my ’57 Chevy Bel Air and headed east. I delivered one piece to a Cambridge, MA client.
While I was taking the neon out of the car, a single acorn fell onto the back window of the car and bounced with a “clink,” into the trunk, and onto another neon piece. Nothing broke, but I pondered the irony of driving a 53-year-old car thousands of miles, filled with fragile neon, only to be “felled” by a single acorn.
Two days later, I arrived in DC to give the stamp to William J. Gicker, who heads up USPS’ stamp development. While I was taking the stamp out of the backseat, another acorn fell with a smack, right on the crate that contained the stamp neon. I realized that acorns, like lightning, do strike twice in the same place!
Somehow, Bill and I safely transported the stamp neon into the garage and plugged it in. Everything lit up. Bill said the USPS was very happy with the design and considered making it a “forever” stamp. Confirmation of this later on was thrilling news.
Throughout this whole process, I was limited by my contract as to what I could say about the stamp project. And I only knew of plans to issue the stamp sometime in 2011 or 2012. I only learned about the press release the first week of January from my niece, while chatting with her on Facebook. She sent me the Beyond the Perf link, http://www.beyondtheperf.com/stamp-releases/neon-celebrate.
That day after lunch, I walked into the Reseda, CA, post office with a friend, and there was the poster, my stamp positioned in a ring box in the center. It absolutely took my breath away!