By James Lomuscio
The image on the stamp is that of a young woman sitting on the ground. She is anxiously huddled over. Her head is in her arms. She is apparently in need of a fix as the above headline reads “Prevent drug abuse.”
Miggs Burroughs with his ex-wife and close friend Mimi and the 1971 stamp that embroiled them in controversy. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
The 8-cent stamp that debuted Oct. 4, 1971 was the creation of longtime Westport artist Miggs Burroughs.
The first day cover (FDC) of the stamp initially released in Dallas depicts a hypodermic needle under the banner “Conquer drug addiction.” It adds, “Over 100,000 Americans lead totally unproductive lives because of their addiction to narcotics.”
“And that was considered a big crisis; that set off a big alarm,” Burroughs said in his Westport studio.
“That’s a little city in America today,” he added about the current opioid crisis.”
Burroughs was the nation’s youngest stamp artist at the time, 25, brought into the world of philatelic design by the late Westporter Stevan Dohanos. In addition to his fame for illustrating Saturday Evening Post covers, Dohanos designed more than two dozen stamps.
They were among the more than 160 postage stamps created in Westport from 1968 to 1998 by 18 artists.
In addition to Dohanos and Burroughs, familiar names include the late Ed Vebell, Howard Munce, Naid and Walter Einsel, Dolli Tingle and Leonard Everett Fisher. Their stamps were on display at the Westport Post Office when it was on Post Road East, but the display was lost when the Post Office moved to Playhouse Square, Burroughs said.
Burroughs made a big splash with the stamp in 1971 and was considered a wunderkind. He sent an FDC to then President Richard Nixon and received a thank-you note from his personal secretary Rose Mary Woods of Watergate infamy.
Dohanos, then chairman of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, put him under his wing, so that Burroughs could create more stamps for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. The bureau oversaw stamp production from 1894 until 2005 when production was given to private firms.
But Burroughs’s future as a stamp designer was abruptly canceled.
He said he was banned, blacklisted for violating a canon of philatelic artistry — having a living person on a United States postage stamp. Foreign stamps is another story, but in America it’s verboten.
From Benjamin Franklin who appeared on the first U.S. stamp in 1847, a 5-cent imperforate, to the thousands that followed, including the recently released portrait of the late President George H.W. Bush on a 55-cent, self-adhesive stamp, all individuals portrayed had to be dead for a while.
“I remember Stevan Dohanos called up and screamed at him,” said Mimi Burroughs, Burroughs’ ex-wife and graphic designer with whom he has maintained a strong friendship throughout the years. They live in the same town, and their son Brady is now 40.
“I violated a sacred rule,” Burroughs recalled.
The model he had used was Mimi, then Mimi Orkin, a 23-year-old fashion artist.
“I was meant to look strung out,” Mimi Burroughs said, recalling that it was an acting feat since neither she nor Miggs had ever used drugs.
“It was meant to be shadowy and sad,” Burroughs said about the stamp’s blue background contrasted with the subject’s head and torso in black ink.
Though many stamp artists have used living persons in creating their stamps, none of the models was ever identified until Mimi Orkin.
Prior to the stamp’s release, Burroughs gave an interview to the National Stamp News, showcasing his then girlfriend. He was unaware of the article’s ramifications.
“Meet Miggs Burroughs, America’s Youngest Stamp Designer, With His Beautiful Model,” the headline of the lead story with Westport dateline read. There, front and center were Burroughs with shoulder-length, puffed out hair and Mimi Orkin with long, flowing blonde hair, the same length as that on the stamp.
“It had to be a figment of my imagination?” Burroughs said sarcastically about being blacklisted once the story hit.
And then he smiled looking at his close friend and ex-wife.
“Mimi’s the only living person featured on a stamp,” he said. “Thousands of stamp designs and just one living subject.”
“It’s my one claim to fame,” she joked.
Not quite. In 1973, Mimi was again Burroughs’ muse, this time the subject of an abstract art nude that adorned an entry door to a 26-story office tower on Water Street just off Wall Street. Melvyn and Robert Kaufman, who built the building, commissioned the art titled “Two Newds.”
But 31 years later, one the building’s tenants, then Goldman and Solomon, found it offensive and said the firm would leave if the art work didn’t.
The controversy made it to the front page of The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 24, 2003. The headline read, “Bare Naked Ladies in the Lobby; Can You See Them.” Though so abstract that many found it hard to determine what the image was, the tenant won out and the work came down.
Miggs and Mimi Burroughs look back on that controversy with a sense of humor. The postage stamp blacklisting not so much.
In his studio, he still has a copy of the purchase order of $1,000, what he was paid for the stamp, “a lot of money back then,” plus a note from Dohanos that said he had to pay $37.49 out of it for the typographer.
“The big thing in my life now is The Westport Artists Collective,” Burroughs said about the group he helped found that now has 150 area artists involved.
Burroughs also currently has an installation on display at Montefiore Hospital in Bronx, New York showing examples of compassion.
After a 48-year exile would Burroughs do another stamp if asked?
“I would like to do a stamp that showcases compassion,” he said, “a Good Samaritan type of thing.”