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Gary Kelley designed stamp
This is the Gary Kelley-designed stamp being released today by the U.S. Postal Service (COURTESY PHOTO)

CEDAR FALLS - Don't be surprised if you see Gary Kelley standing in line to purchase new stamps at the Cedar Falls U.S. Post Office. The award-winning artist has created the artwork for the 33rd stamp in the Black Heritage series that is being issued beginning today.

"I've just seen the stamp on posters at the post office, so I'll have to buy some stamps," he said.

The 44-cent stamp features pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, who wrote, directed, produced and distributed more than 40 films in the early to mid 20th century. He is being recognized for his "entrepreneurial spirit and independent vision," according to a U.S Postal Service press release.

The filmmaker's success came at a time when there were few African-American filmmakers, scarce venues to show their work and no support from Hollywood. Micheaux was awarded posthumously a Directors Guild of America award in 1986 and in 1995, the Producers Guild of America established an award in his honor. Only 15 of his movies have survived in whole or in part.

Kelley's subtle pastel is based on a portrait of Micheaux that appeared in his 1913 novel, "The Conquest." Kelley said there were several portraits from the same angle.

"I took some liberties, but you can't get too creative or complicated with the artwork."

He completed and submitted the artwork nearly three years ago. The process is lengthy from artwork to postage stamp, which Kelley learned when he was commissioned to create stamps commemorating gospel singers Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Roberta Martin and Sister Rosetta, issued in 1998.

Stamp subjects must have been deceased for 10 years, with the exception of U.S. presidents, and celebrate events, achievements and people who have shaped the country's history or culture.

A citizens advisory board evaluates suggestions from the public, and the Postmaster General makes the decision on stamps to be issued.

"They're pretty particular about the program. You can say you're doing a stamp but you can't say whose portrait you're working on," Kelley said. He has four more movie-related stamps in the pipeline for issuance in 2010 or 2011.

Kelley recalls working on the roughly 6-by-9-inch Micheaux portrait at the time he was creating large-scale murals for the McLeod Center.

He was invited but is unable to attend this year's annual celebration honoring Micheaux in Gregory, S.D., where the filmmaker successfully homesteaded a farm as a young man.

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