Hyperallergic marketing associate Kara Romano with a sheet of Abstract Expressionist stamps. Motherwell at bottom left. (click to enlarge)

You might assume that when a person or an image has made it onto a US postal stamp, it’s gained mainstream approbation. The stamp might even spread that acceptance and influence, making more people aware of the subject. I’m inclined to agree. But this morning Hyperallergic marketing associate Kara Romano discovered the hard way that even though the Abstract Expressionists got their own batch of stamps two and a half years, not everyone knows who they are. Not even some postal workers.

It all began when Kara went to the Stuyvesant Town post office to mail a package and a letter. The postage on the letter was the stamp that reproduces Robert Motherwell’s “Elegy to the Spanish Republic XXXIV,” a painting from 1953–54 featuring black abstract forms that obscure the colors of the flag of the Spanish Republic in the background. Kara doesn’t remember the conversation verbatim, but this is her recollection, combined with a bit of my creative interpretation:

The old, cranky woman behind the glass took the envelope Kara had placed inside the mail chamber and eyed it suspiciously. She looked at Kara.

“You can’t draw on stamps,” she said.

“Oh yeah … that’s good to know,” Kara replied. It took her a few seconds to realize that the woman behind the glass thought that was what Kara had done. “I didn’t.”

“I can tell you went over this in black marker,” the old, cranky woman said, pointing to the Motherwell stamp.

“No, it’s a painting,” said Kara.

“You can tell that you drew over something else,” the woman insisted.

“No, it’s a famous painting. It’s abstract,” Kara argued, exasperated. Who was this woman, and why was she so suspicious?

The postal worker proceeded to explain how letters get routed and mailed through a machine somewhere “back there.” “I used to work back there,” she said. “They’re not gonna accept this.”

Kara looked at the woman and thought about arguing or enlisting the help of an art expert, maybe Wikipedia, to convince her. Kara sighed. Kara bought a new stamp.

Everyone’s an art critic.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...