The United Nations Postal Administration is featuring Tamaqua artist Stephen Bennett's World Portraits for its 2009 Indigenous People postage stamps.

The first day of issue took place Thursday at a Meet the Artist session at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan.

The series of 18 stamps will be issued in three countries and three languages at the United Nations headquarters/ offices located in Austria, Switzerland and the United States.

Bennett works out of a gallery inside the former Tamaqua First Presbyterian Church, 224 West Broad St. He is an American portrait painter, born in upstate New York. Artistic from his early years, he discovered his fascination for the human face when he was only 12, and started sketching the faces of his family and friends.

Over the last 17 years, Bennett has traveled to 24 countries seeking out indigenous people to capture their cultural traditions and personalities through colorful portrait paintings on a grand scale, many being 7 foot by 5 foot. His objective is to share his experiences with the diversity of humanity though interpretive color with paints that he has hand-mixed from pure pigments.

His work has been used to promote and preserve cultures through exhibits in Australia, Mexico, St. Martin, Panama, French Polynesia, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Namibia, Kenya, Morocco, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and his canvases were featured in two exhibits at the United Nations, New York, in 2007 and 2008.

Bennett's passion for the human face has become a mission to complete an international exhibition of 1,000 World Portraits painted with colors that reflect the vibrancy of the cultures he encounters ... cultures whose traditions may fade all too soon.

His large colorful canvases detail the beauty of the human face, portraying common humanity that in an inclusive way that represents all people as citizens of the world.

Bennett shares, "I am a portrait painter because of my passion for the world's people. My portraits convey a fusion of my feelings for each subject with an intuitive use of color. I intensify them in celebration of that person's existence. I hope my portraits reveal that every person of every race and culture is interconnected, indispensable and radiant with astonishing beauty."