CHARLESTON - West Virginia is getting a lasting tribute for its 150th birthday, courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service: a new Forever stamp will debut June 20 as part of West Virginia's sesquicentennial celebration, officials announced Thursday.
The image on the first-class stamp is unmistakably Mountain State. A series of gently sloping, tree-shrouded hills stretch off to the horizon, fringed by mists, with the sun providing an almost sepia cast.
"That's what West Virginia is known for," said Roger Spencer, the state native and photographer who captured the image. "The mountains are a defining characteristic of the state. They shaped how it was settled, how its communities formed."
The stamp will debut June 20, the anniversary of statehood and the kick-off day for a series of celebrations in Charleston. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Thomas J. Marshall, executive vice president for the Postal Service, are scheduled to dedicate the stamp at a 1:50 p.m. ceremony outside the state Capitol. It will then become available for sale and cancellation, officials with the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission said.
"The stamp is a beautiful depiction of our majestic mountains and forests, a little slice of 'Almost Heaven,'" Tomblin said in a statement, referring to West Virginia's popular nickname.
West Virginia began hosting activities earlier this year to commemorate it becoming a state upon splitting with Virginia during the Civil War. After Virginia voted to secede from the Union in 1861, residents of some of its western counties sought to secede from Virginia. Their efforts launched a two-year process that eventually saw citizens of 39 counties vote to stay with the U.S.
Spencer said the Postal Service approached him last summer about using his photo for the stamp after seeing it on his website.
"I was thrilled," Spencer said. "I'm a native West Virginian. I love the people, I love the state and I consider it a real honor to have this used. Any opportunity to put the state in a positive light, I appreciate that, too."
A 58-year-old chemical worker in Tyler County, Spencer said he's seriously pursued photography for about 20 years. Readers of Wonderful West Virginia, published monthly by the Division of Natural Resources, should be familiar with his work. Around 150 of his photos have appeared in the magazine over the years, he estimated, and he contributed 13 of its covers. Focusing on landscapes and mostly in West Virginia, Spencer's work has also appeared in other publications as well as calendars, greeting cards and advertising.
Spencer shot the picture chosen for the stamp near Marlinton in Pocahontas County, from the Highland Scenic Highway that runs through the Monongahela National Forest. He used a digital camera and no filtering lens - he typically doesn't with sunrise shots, he said - and the natural light provided the resulting tone.
Spencer said he's pleased that the Postal Service selected that image, as opposed to one of a perhaps better known West Virginia landmark such as Blackwater Falls.
"It kind of represents the whole state," he said.
West Virginia earlier commissioned 1,863 silver coin-like rounds, reflecting the year it gained statehood. Those sold out within 12 hours of their May 20 unveiling. The Forever stamp also features the 1863 date, and the Postal Service expects to print 30 million of them. Now priced at 46 cents, Forever stamps remain good for first-class postage even if rates increase in the future.
The sesquicentennial celebration slated for June 20-23 in Charleston also includes concerts and parades as well as a 3-D movie and three nights of fireworks on the state Capitol grounds.