PHOENIX – Images of Sedona’s Cathedral Rock will grace letters across the country in February as a first-class stamp allows Americans to help celebrate Arizona’s centennial.

Organizers unveiled the painting by Valley artist Ed Mell this past weekend when the traveling Arizona Best Fest centennial festival kicked off in Prescott.

“I actually tried a few different directions before I settled on Cathedral Rock, which I really felt was an icon of Arizona,” Mell said in an interview Monday at his Phoenix studio.

A native Arizonan and a stamp collector in his youth, Mell said this assignment was a dream come true.

“It’s one of those things I always thought would be a wonderful thing to do,” he said.

Karen Churchard, executive director of the Arizona Centennial 2012 Foundation, said U.S. Postal Service representatives asked centennial organizers going in what they didn’t want on the stamp. Their answer: the Grand Canyon and saguaro cactuses, which they considered overused.

“We want to showcase our history,” Churchard said.

Mell said the oil painting took him about three weeks to complete. He worked in a style that combines abstract and realism.

He started by taking a photo of Cathedral Rock and developed pencil sketches before producing the final work on a 20-by-30-inch canvas.

The piece now belongs to the Postal Service, and the stamp will officially become available on Arizona’s Statehood Day, Feb. 14, 2012. A forever stamp, it can be used indefinitely to mail a one-ounce letter.

Mell, who has worked as an artist for 35 years, said he is looking forward to seeing the finished product in February.

“If you’re not enthusiastic about painting, it shows on the canvas,” he said.

Joanne Ingram is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.

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