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A Stamp of Approval

The going rate for a piece by Memphis artist George Hunt just dropped dramatically - to 37 cents.

Hunt's 1997 painting America Cares will be included in a new stamp series that debuts this week entitled "To Form a More Perfect Union," which recognizes those who struggled for equality during the civil rights movement. Hunt's America Cares depicts the Little Rock Nine, the first African-American students to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Hunt, who grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, says he initially didn't think school integration was a big deal. "I remember the governor calling in the National Guard, and I read about it in the Arkansas Gazette, which was the black newspaper. As a young person at the time, I really felt I was already going to the best school, so I didn't care for integration one way or the other."

The Little Rock High School Museum commissioned the painting in 1997 as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the historic event. Former President Bill Clinton attended the event and asked that the painting be hung in the White House where it remained during his presidency.

The painting, done in Hunt's signature bright colors, depicts the nine students flanked by a National Guardsman on one side and Daisy Bates, the head of the Little Rock NAACP, on the other.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Hunt became very involved in the Poor People's campaign but says he doesn't try to confront issues of civil rights directly in his work.

"As an artist I feel that I try to consider human issues."

His education in New York put Hunt in contact with a number of important African-American artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Hale Woodruff. Woodruff, in particular, helped Hunt in his transition to the New York art world. Hunt, however, considers Picasso to be his major hero.

"I feel as though I've learned as much from folk artists as I have from school," Hunt says, "but once you've had a little schooling, you can't exactly call yourself a folk artist anymore."

Hunt taught art and coached athletics for 30 years in Memphis City Schools and is now retired. He is pleased to have his artwork made into a stamp but even "at 37 cents a pop, I don't think I'm going to be sending too many letters," he says.

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