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Ken Turmel on the right, photo by Photo by the Oklahoma Route 66 Association

 

Route 66 is Stamping Ground


Some folks get their kicks on Route 66.
Ken Turmel gets signed, stamped and canceled.

 

By Victoria Steele
Joplin Globe Staff Writer
March 1, 1996


Ken Turmel - 'The Landrunner'

 

Turmel, 44, says he is the "pioneer of canceled art.''  He has traveled more than 100,000 miles collecting postmarks, stamps and signatures for his artworks. His recent piece, "66 and More,'' features Route 66 plus state outlines and postmarks from every city along the way.

"I call it '66 and More' because I branched off into the Grand Canyon, Malibu, Disneyland and the state capitals,'' says Turmel, Midwest City, Okla. "The number of postmarks I get add to the value of the prints. It also increases their value when towns become disestablished and post offices close. One of the towns on the route, Cadiz, Calif., has closed down since I got the postmark.''

Turmel carries seven "66 and More'' originals to each post office in case something happens to damage one. An original is appraised at $25,000, he says. The prints sell for $150. "Can you imagine if something happened to damage this original?'' he asks. "I can never go back and get these exact same postmarks.''

He will select one of the 23-by-35-inch originals to make 2,448 prints, one print for each mile of Route 66. He says the limited-edition prints are made on acid-free museum quality 80-pound stock paper, then signed and numbered. There are no second editions of a print and the original will never be duplicated, Turmel says. "I started this piece on Sept. 23, 1995, when the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Okla., opened,'' he says. "I wanted to get a special postmark to commemorate America's Main Street.'' As a retired postal employee, Turmel knows a thing or two about postmarks.

"I met someone who had flown in from Germany to Los Angeles for a postmark,'' he says. "Collectors usually get only one or two postmarks on a postcard. If you want to see their collection you have to look at all their cards. One morning I woke up with the idea to turn canceled postmarks into art.'' Turmel says more than 1,000 postmasters, museums and professional artists have confirmed his work as original. "I have to take the original artwork to each post office personally,'' he says. "I can't take the chance on mailing it.''

Many of the postmarks are pictorial postmarks, official U.S. postmarks that commemorate a celebration or historical event. Postmarking devices are used only for 30 days, then sent to Kansas City and destroyed after 90 days. For instance, Turmel obtained Joplin's postmark on Feb. 29, 1996, the last leap year cancellation date this century. This makes the artwork historical as well as beautiful, he says.

Collecting these postmarks and particular dates requires more than a simple 2,448-mile jaunt. Turmel has traveled more than 23,000 miles back and forth along Route 66 to gather the 230-plus postmarks on "66 and More.'' He estimates his out-of-pocket expenses at $6,000. "It cost me at least $500 to get to the Supai, Ariz., post office where mail is still carried by mule,'' he says. " The only way to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is by horseback, helicopter or walking. I went down on a horse and came back by helicopter.'' The postmark commemorated the 100th anniversary of Supai.

In addition to cancellation marks, he also obtains signatures related to his work. Bobby Troup, composer of "Get Your Kicks on Route 66,'' signed the originals, as did Will Rogers' son, Jim. One of Turmel's postmark-art prints is on display at the governor's mansion in Oklahoma City. "We have Kenneth Turmel's 'Oklahoma and Friends' collage of stamps on display in one of the stairwells in the mansion,'' says Mallory Van Horn, special projects coordinator with the Office of the First Lady. "Friends of the Mansion technically owns the piece.'' Postmaster Gen. Marvin Runyon was presented with a print of another collage, "Adventure Centennial Document,'' says Turmel.

In addition, he has created a "Texas Sesquicentennial Document'' print. He is currently trying to obtain all of the 660 Oklahoma post offices on one piece of art. His wife, Melissa, is working on the project with him.  "We've got more than half of the postmarks,'' says Melissa, 30.  "We don't like to rush. We take our time, enjoy the scenery and take our history trips.''  Turmel says they have met a number of people along the way they wouldn't have met otherwise. " I have a lot of fun,'' he says. " I enjoy going out there and seeing new places.''

 

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