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New stamps feature American folk heroes

Four years after David La Fleur painted his first stamps for the Postal Service, the agency is at last getting around to issuing them. The four stamps feature La Fleur's impressions of four American folk heroes _ Casey at the Bat, Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan and the steel-driving John Henry.

The four commemoratives exhibit a mix of cartoon and poster art. "Very overtly designed work," La Fleur says, with shoulders and chins "a little more square" to make them distinctive. "They are very macho _ that's the way I see them."

The four heroes went on sale last week in Anaheim, Calif., at a large stamp show. The stamps will have to prove unusually popular to outdistance La Fleur's first stamp _ the "flag over porch" stamp which has become the staple 32-cent stamp in both self-adhesive and traditional gummed formats.

Before he was commissioned to paint that stamp, the Derby, Kan., artist was asked to paint six folk heroes stamps. Two, Johnny Appleseed and Rip Van Winkle, didn't make it through the selection process for reasons La Fleur said he never learned.

Once submitted to Washington, La Fleur's other heroes won quick approval, he said. "They didn't toy with them very much," he said, although postal officials did try altering the colors before sending the designs to the printers.

He found working in the commemorative-size gave him a much broader canvas than in the regular-size flag series. Even so, he added cartoon-style lines to his drawings to help the design stand out more.

Fearful of being accused of copying someone else's idea, the 35-year-old artist reread the folk stories in an old book that didn't have illustrations. "I just came up with my own interpretation of what they looked like . . . A folk tale is, after all, a retelling of a story."

Ashton-Potter USA Ltd. printed 112.7-million of the stamps on offset presses at its Williamsville, N.Y., plant. The stamps are being sold in sheets of 20.

Individuals seeking first-day cancellations of the folk heroes stamps should purchase the stamps at their local post office and place them on addressed envelopes. These should be mailed in a larger envelope to Folk Heroes Stamps, Postmaster, 701 N Loara St., Anaheim, CA 92803-9991. Requests for cancellations should be postmarked by Aug. 10.