Twenty-six years before I designed the Texas stamp, my immense love and fascination for the Alamo found its genesis when my father took our family to a movie set in south Texas.
At the age of twelve, I was full of awe as we strolled through John Wayne’s Alamo movie set near Brackettville, a day after filming was completed.
Except for a couple of extras who were still hanging around, the mission and town of San Antonio were virtually desolate. In the mission, the chapel was still showing the burn marks from the explosion that occurred at the end of the last battle in the film.
The cannon were still there, along with ladders and other props. A lot of Styrofoam rocks and pieces of walls were lying around and I began making sport of seeing how far I could kick these large “rocks.” One of them was the real thing, and my foot was sore for days. I also found a flat piece of Styrofoam that was in the shape of a human head.
The visit to the set, and later, seeing the movie, made a lasting impression in my life. I visited the set twice while I was in college and the theme of the Alamo has been a favorite subject for my easel.
Designing the stamp
As a commercial illustrator, I have had the privilege to do a number of high profile projects over the years. None have meant more to me than the design of the U.S. postage stamp, honoring the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986. It was a commission that embodied my love for Texas history, and especially, the Alamo.
In early 1985, Ron (my twin brother) and I were busy at our drawing boards, when we got a call from the United States Postal Service. They asked if we would like to join a competition for the design of the commemorative postage stamp, honoring the Texas Sesquicentennial, in 1986. We would join eight other professionals. All of the illustrators had stamp credits to their names, including my brother, who had done two stamp designs already. I had none.
We were given strict instructions not to tell anyone of our participation in the project. Also, they gave us a list of items they did not want us to use in our designs. Some of the items included the Alamo, Sam Houston, blue bonnets, windmills, armadillos, etc. One of the designs I submitted was a spur sitting on top of a Texas flag. A very simple design.
Ron and I mailed our comps to the postal service, and waited. A few weeks later, I received a call from the stamp coordinator. He asked if the spur was Santa Anna’s spur. I said “No, it’s just a generic spur.” He said “Fine” and hung up. It was a very brief and somewhat strange call, I thought.
A few more weeks passed and I got another call. He said “We think someone might think it is Santa Anna’s spur. Could you leave the flag the same way and do us two more designs, one with a portrait of Sam Houston and the other with the Alamo.” Those were two items that they had told us not to use in our designs. Even so, I hurriedly knocked out two more comps, with the flag staying the same and including one with a portrait of Sam Houston and the other with a rendering of the Alamo.
A month later, I got the call I had hoped for. “Mr. Adair, congratulations. Your design has been chosen for the stamp.” I said “Great! Which element are you going to use, Sam Houston or the Alamo?” He said “Neither. We are going back to the spur, and we want it to be Santa Anna’s spur.” The Dallas Historical Society had the actual spurs that the defeated Santa Anna gave to Houston, after the battle of San Jacinto. I went down and examined the spurs and shot some photos for reference for the stamp. The finished design that I used for the stamp has Santa Anna’s spur on it.
A short time later, the stamp coordinator told me that my brother and I were the only brothers in U.S. Postal history that have ever designed stamps. When the Postal Service went public about the stamp in February of 1986, there was an avalanche of publicity that hit. It was also neat to go to the first day of issue ceremony on March 2, in San Antonio, next to the Alamo. Dignitaries spoke, and I was honored as the stamp’s designer.
Deborah here: What a great treat—to roam all over a movie set with your brother. Not just any movie set either, but John Wayne’s 1960 production of The Alamo. On Monday, Don will tell about visiting a second movie set—Disney’s 2004 production of The Alamo.
See Don Adair’s website at http://don-adair.com/