This post was updated on December 18, 2018
On Saturday, March 24, 2018, Dan Robbins, inventor of the Paint By Number brand that indelibly shaped American popular culture, shared reminiscences of the early days at the Craft Master company and how the numbered painting craze swept the nation. 20 North Gallery welcomed friends, fans and collectors to a free public reception to meet Mr. Robbins. The 45-minute conversation was mediated by 20 North Gallery owner Eric Hillenbrand.
After his talk, Robbins signed copies of his book, Whatever Happened To Paint By Numbers?: a humorous personal account of what it took to make anyone an “artist,” which are available for sale at 20 North Gallery.
See what BCAN Arts had to share about this historic event!
Buckeye Community Arts Network – Where Art Lives – Exclusively on Buckeye Broadband: April 5, 2018
Robbins’ visit coincided with the final week of the exhibition of The Grant & Goodridge Paint By Number Collections, featuring historical canvases and memorabilia designed and painted by Robbins and Peggy & Adam Grant during their time at Craft Master, as well as selected works from the Paint By Number collection of the late Ann Goodridge, a dear friend of Peggy Grant, who acquired her numbered painting canvases in tribute to the Grants’ indelible rôle in this American popular culture phenomenon as two of the original designers. Some of the pieces shown at 20 North have been featured in museum exhibitions of Paint By Number history, most notably the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History 2001 exhibition, Paint By Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s. With the exception of a few archival items, all of the collected work is available for purchase.
Click to view the revised 2nd edition of The Grant & Goodridge Paint By Number Collections catalogue, containing images of all of the canvases on display and available for sale in the exhibition.
Central to the exhibition was the artist proof of the Paint By Number canvas, “The Last Supper” (after da Vinci), which was designed and painted by Mrs. Grant’s late husband, Adam Grant. Created in 1964, during the Grants’ time at the Craft Master company, “The Last Supper “canvas became the most purchased kit in the genre of numbered painting, with millions and millions of copies sold.
Paint By Number & Dan Robbins
The cultural phenomenon of Paint By Number began in 1950 at the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit (Michigan). Commercial artist Dan Robbins based his concept on Leonardo da Vinci’s practice of numbering sections of his canvases for apprentices to complete. After trial and error, Robbins’ painting kits became arguably the most loved—and most maligned—hobby of the “new leisure class” of 1950s Americans.
As the business rapidly grew, Robbins hired additional designers, including Adam Grant and Margaret “Peggy” Brennan, whose artistic partnership soon evolved to marriage. Robbins became their good friend, as well as the head of art direction for Palmer Paints and, later, the Craft Master company of Toledo (Ohio).
After many years designing and marketing paintings that promoted “the art of leisure,” Robbins went on to head his own Chicago-area advertising agency and became the definitive expert of the Paint By Number genre. Known as “the most exhibited artist in the world,” for the thousands and thousands of canvases of his design that proudly hang in the homes of the people who bought and painted the kits, Dan Robbins spent many years lecturing, researching and archiving Paint By Number history. He was a consultant to the 2001 Smithsonian exhibition, “Paint By Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s” and is the author of ‘What Ever Happened To Paint-By-Numbers? A humorous personal account of what it took to make anyone an “artist”’ (Possum Hill Press). Now retired, he and his wife, a former Craft Master proofer, reside in Toledo, Ohio.
Not only popular, the kits were also highly controversial, accused of debasing the concept of original art. But the combined testament of generations of fans has demonstrated that, by making the process of painting more accessible to everyday folk, “Art,” itself, became more approachable and no longer the sole province of the cultural elite. Many fans attest that, through the introduction of Paint By Number, they had the courage to later attempt their own original paintings—a proud accomplishment for Mr. Robbins and all those who grew the brand.