Friday, July 06, 2012

Tom McNeely's First Day Covers

During the 1970s Tom McNeely began illustrating stamps for Canada Post. The client was so impressed by Tom's work they recommended him to Unicover Corporation of Cheyenne, Wyoming.


In 1978 Tom created his first painting for Unicover. Over the next twenty-eight years, he painted four hundred First Day Covers for the company.


Tom said, "Unicover gave me the freedom to research, compose and paint my images. They didn't demand preliminary studies for the covers. This allowed me to give full energy to the finished paintings."


Having had the privilege of sharing a studio space with Tom for several years, I recall watching in awe as he would develop a series of illustrations for Unicover. His pencil sketches alone were a marvel. Here are a few which I rescued from the trash.






And here's one of the finished pieces.


In September of 2011, an exhibition of Tom's Philatelic 1st Day Covers opened in the Great Hall of the Toronto Arts and Letters Club.



Sixty-six of Tom's paintings were displayed.


At the show opening, Tom spoke about the process of researching his subjects and how it was a time-honoured tradition among artists. He spoke of the great lengths Messonier, Napoleon's favourite historical painter, went to during his day to accurately portray the movement of horse. He talked about how N.C. Wyeth would hire local people to model for his paintings of "Robin Hood" or "Treasure Island" and how film maker Ken Burns, being unhindered by ties to any large studios was able to take whatever time he needed to properly "know, compose and produce his work."


"All three did whatever they had to do to gather information and to execute their art with confidence and passion."


"Most mornings I could hardly wait to get to my studio to work on my latest commission," said Tom. "I felt privileged to spend those years on many kinds of projects - and especially on the Philatelic assignments."


"I loved the process."

If you're interested in seeing more of Tom's artwork and reading about his career, just click the links below:

Tom McNeely, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


  1. Interesting. As a former postie who worked the philatelic counter at times, I can testify that First Day Covers and the like are pure profit for Canada Post. As Collector's items, they are bought, but never redeemed for postage, as are regular stamps. That is, no service as such is rendered for the fee.

    Which begs the question: what did these artists receive for their efforts?

  2. "I loved the process."

    "I could hardly wait to get to my studio to work on my latest comission."

    That just comes through! It shows!
    The feeling is still there, and it remains for ever, inscribed here in Today's Inspiration.
    And this "love of process" will even outlive Today's Inspiration.
    It will remain for ever.

    There are pieces of music reverberating with a kindred emotion; musicians playing who just "loved the process".
    The pieces keep on reverberating. Just timeless; like Today's Inspiration.