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to oct. 3, 2007

Forget postal politics—what’s interesting about stamps isn’t who’s on them but how those people are depicted. “Trailblazers & Trendsetters: Art of the Stamp” transcends mere philatelophilia; by showcasing the imagery that ended up stuck to the upper right-hand corner of our mail, the exhibit traces the evolution of American art. First issued in 1847, stamps sported engraved portraits of the Founding Fathers, but 160 years have welcomed locket miniatures (an angelic Emily Dickinson), post-impressionism (an intense Carl Sandburg), and photorealism (University of Alabama college football coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant) into the medium. A more pluralistic art form may not exist—where else but the National Postal Museum could a mystical representation of literary giant Willa Cather with a rainbow sprouting from her head hang beside glamour shots of Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog? Though an exploration of a most tendentious stamp debate—“Fat vs. Skinny Elvis”—is absent, the oversight is more than made up for by some of the freakiest stamps ever, including an eerie image of Judy Garland that inadvertently memorializes her prescription-drug haze. But, for a sheer dose of Americana, all postal art pales beside a cell-phone-themed stamp that features, well, a thrift-store-caliber painting of a goateed gentleman on a cell phone. Long lines at your local post office prove that the USPS may not have mastered customer service, but this all-inclusive, ever-evolving, ad-hoc art history lesson is invaluable. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (museum closed Monday, Dec. 25) to Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2007, at the National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Free. (202) 633-1000. (Justin Moyer)