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Stamped out

This Marian art can’t be licked

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Who is the woman who has appeared on more postage stamps than any other?

Is it Marilyn Monroe?

The Queen of England?

Lady Liberty?

None of those, according to Phil Jensen, a longtime stamp collector and member of St. Ann Parish in Prairie Village.

The woman who has graced more postage stamps than any other is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.

And he should know. Not only has he collected more than 850 stamps from 197 countries and provinces depicting the Blessed Mother, he has reproduced 44 of these stamps as enlarged water- color paintings.

The watercolors, in fact, are now on temporary display on the west main chapel wall at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The paintings, many of which depict the Nativity or the Madonna and Christ Child, will remain on display throughout the Advent and Christmas season.

“I’ve always had a strong love for the Virgin Mother,” said Jensen. “But [the idea to paint] came to me as I read an article that said she appeared on more stamps than any other woman in the world. I don’t know how many, but a heck of a lot.”

Jensen, now retired, has been collecting stamps since he was 10 or 11. He’d cut off the tops from cereal boxes and send them in for a box of foreign stamps.

“You’d get these in the mail and paste them into books, and it was a great deal of fun,” said Jensen. “The stamps were not valuable.”

One of his first stamps was a red and yellow one-mark stamp, printed in 1920, from Bavaria, Germany. It depicts the image of the Madonna and Child.

Many years later, as an adult, he taught himself to paint, but always continued his stamp collecting.

Finally, about eight months ago, he combined his two hobbies and began to paint the collection on display now. He spent about three or four days per painting.

The paintings found their way to Savior, after Jensen showed the collection to its new director, Tim Chik.

Chik then invited Jensen to mount an exhibit of his watercolors — the first in what Chik hopes to be a regular feature of the center.

“I find them fascinating — the various ways that Mary is depicted around the world and [how] people identify Mary in their own time and in the world,” said Chik.

Some of the stamps are quite unusual. The Bavarian stamp, among his earliest, has risen in value quite a bit because of its relative rarity. Nearly every country in the world has made a Marian stamp, except for a few Muslim nations and, inexplicably, Denmark.

The collector has purchased most of his stamps from a dealer in Milan, Italy, although he’s bought from other dealers as well.

Some stamps are unusually shaped, or are a collector-type stamp sleeved in a larger souvenir sheet, perforated so the stamps can be removed.

“The hardest stamp to get is from North Korea,” said Jensen. “You can’t get anything out of North Korea. After two years of trying, I found a [French] guy with three. He said, ‘They aren’t perforated,’ and I said I didn’t care and would take them anyway.”

But it’s Jensen’s art, rather than the stamps themselves, that has gotten Chik looking to the future.

“It’s an exciting, new development,” he said. “We’d like to establish a rotating exhibit of art — Catholic art — that celebrates our heritage in the archdiocese and the greater church. We’re proud of the Catholic [artistic] heritage. Art and Catholicism have always been closely linked. We’re excited to be a part of that.”

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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