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Donato Giancola, Gallery Artist in NY Times

Donato Giancola, Gallery Artist in NY Times

The postage stamps drawn by Donato Giancola that were unveiled Wednesday.

The postage stamps drawn by Donato Giancola that were unveiled Wednesday.


Donato Giancola does not remember the day itself, which, if you happen to be checking the calendar, was 50 years ago on Thursday — May 5, 1961.

“I wasn’t even a single-celled organism at that point,” said Mr. Giancola, a Brooklyn artist who was not born until 1967. “A little further into the space age.”

So he had to do some research for a postage stamp commemorating Alan B. Shepard Jr., the first American to fly in space — not to be confused with the spacewalkers in Mr. Giancola’s illustration in Playboy last month. The face of one of the spacewalkers “is my friend Randy,” he said. “He finally became a Playboy model.”

Back to the stamp, which was unveiled on Wednesday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio. (The Postal Service also issued another stamp drawn by Mr. Giancola honoring NASA’s Messenger spacecraft, launched in 2004 on a mission to Mars.)

Mr. Shepard, squeezed into a Mercury capsule, went 115 miles up in a suborbital flight that electrified a nation that had been demoralized by one Soviet space-race success after another.

Mr. Giancola, who lives in Boerum Hill, went to Queens, to the New York Hall of Science, where a Mercury space capsule is on display not far from one of his other paintings. He said that kind of sharp-eyed research is no different from what he does when preparing for, say, historical recreations of the French and Indian War, studying costumes, clothing and settings “and recomposing that into a believable situation.

“Doing Alan Shepard, I worked the same way,” he said. “There wasn’t any one image I could just copy.”

Painting a stamp is not terribly different from doing a magazine illustration, he said. “The reason why the Postal Service looks to a lot of professional illustrators is we are used to the barrage of negotiating, the requests for changes and working with committees,” he said. “There is quite a bit of revision. Even when you’ve done the painting, there are small nuances of retouching. It helped in my case, getting the likeness to feel more like Alan Shepard and getting the Messenger to be more accurate scientifically.”

Enough about the research. What about Mr. Giancola’s first space memory? “Being woken up by my parents to watch a moon landing,” he said.

Which mission? He figured it out by process of elimination. “I think it’s Apollo 14 that landed at 4:30 in the morning,” he said. “My parents would have been crazy to wake up a small kid at that hour, and they weren’t that crazy.” Apollo 16, which landed on the moon on April 21, 1972, is a more likely possibility, he said. He was 5.

Did the Postal Service give him free stamps?

No, he said. “The payoff is being able to use this stamp forever,” he said. “When we were first working on this, it had a 42-cent denomination. I went, ‘That’ll be fun when it comes out, but you’ll have to keep adding one-penny stamps to it as the price goes up.’ Then they came out with ‘forever’ stamps, so I’ll be able to use this till the day I die, as long as I buy enough of them.”

An illustration that Mr. Giancola did for a recent Playboy magazine article about space mining. The model is his friend Randy.

An illustration that Mr. Giancola did for a recent Playboy magazine article
about space mining. The model is his friend Randy.

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