Arts & Entertainment

The history of paint by numbers

Info Guru,

Rate This Article:

3.2 / 5.0
Have you ever painted with a paint by numbers kit?
  • Share
  • Tweet

Paint by numbers kits can allow you to produce a nice painting, in spite of having little or no art experience. I used to love them when I was a kid, and now my kids are enjoying them. But the kits are not simply a craft idea for kids - their appeal spans all ages, and they are considered a pop culture phenomenon in their own right.

The history of paint by numbers

In the years after World War II, the United States experienced a time of prosperity. During the 1950s, this prosperity hit its zenith, and Americans were experiencing more leisure time than ever before. Artist Dan Robbins hit on the idea of paint by numbers: a kit that would allow even the artistically uninformed to create a frame-worthy painting.

Robbins partnered with Max S. Klein, owner of the Palmer Paint Company of Detroit, Michigan, to market the kits under the Craft Master Brand. Robbins created many of the first paintings; Klein was the business mastermind. The boxes boasted the slogan, "Every man a Rembrandt!" The kits were an instant hit, and more than 12 million kits were sold between 1951 and 1954 alone. People everywhere were picking up paintbrushes for the first time, and creating works of art that they wanted to display. The kits began to include pamphlets with tips for how to frame and display the paintings.

The first kits The original kits were of representational paintings: seascapes, landscapes, portraits, and reproductions of classic masterpieces. An attempt to introduce abstract art into the paint by numbers line was a failure. The people who used paint by numbers didn't "get" abstract art, and wanted their paintings to look like real things.

Artists criticized the concept Some artists and art critics weren't too keen on the new fad, though. Critics blasted the hobby as an attack on creativity, and said that it ruined people's ability to recognize true art. Retailers hit back, saying that ten percent of the people who used paint by numbers went on to buy supplies and create their own art.

In the 1960s, the phrase "by the numbers" became a metaphor for following instructions, doing things "by the book," a kind of anti-creativity.

Paint by number today

The 1990s saw the paint by number kits regaining popularity, and the paintings from the original kits became collectors' items. In 1992, the Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery in New York City held an exhibit of the paint-by-numbers works of Michael O'Donoghue, one of the original screenwriters on the hit show Saturday Night Live.

The National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institute, hosted a paint by numbers exhibit in 2001. For more on the exhibit and the history of paint by numbers, go to the exhibit's website.

You can still find paint by numbers kits in craft stores all over the United States. A new generation of the artistically challenged are finding a way to create something beautiful and maybe a desire to create their own original works of art.

Rate this Article

Click on the stars below to rate this article from 1 to 5

  • Share
  • Tweet