There was a time when an art supply store was a destination of peaceful refuge and an incubator of dreams. In these once revered halls of colorful wonder, the sales people were quirky but knowledgeable and eager to help. I remember long conversations about the pros and cons of different brands of brushes, and benefits of certain pigments in various shades of red. This era has slowly ground to a painful end with the closure of another Manhattan art supply store, DaVinci on 21st Street.
As a child taking the train from New Jersey I would climb creaky stairways, gazing at the floor-to-ceiling tools that stimulated the creative imagination. I would come away with a new tube of watercolor or a sketchbook that was lovingly packaged by the sales person. After getting my first paycheck as a medical doctor I drove to the city to Pearl Paint on Canal Street to buy an oak drafting table I had my eye on for years. Decades later this table is a centerpiece of my studio.
I always wondered about the other customers who shared the aisles looking for that important piece of art equipment. What were they working on and what were they looking for? Some were scrunched over and scraggly looking, others standing tall and bright-eyed clutching their newly found treasures. All shared a drive to make art in whatever medium – pastels, clay, gouache, airbrush, india ink, oils. Where is the special pencil that would make magic in my sketchbook?
There were once several art supply stores in Manhattan. Each had its own personality and one by one they have closed. Pearl Paint, Sam Flax, Lee’s Art Supply, Friedman’s, Jerry’s, and the legendary New York Central. Does anyone remember Arthur Brown in midtown? I remember searching for a specific watercolor tube, spending the day going from store to store until finally finding it.
So this week I made a sad pilgrimage to DaVinci on 21st Street. Much of the inventory was gone but there was still a surprising amount left, and lots of customers looking for bargains at the 40% off closing sale. I picked up some Bainbridge illustration board, they were out of my favorite Strathmore brand. I also found a great treasure – a size 16 DaVinci red sable watercolor brush. At the sale price I couldn’t resist.
The art supply stores that remain (exceptions include Soho Art Materials and Kremer Pigments on 29th Street), appear sterile and not much different from a CVS drugstore. Finding a knowledgeable sales person can be a challenge, and the experience is not much different from buying mouthwash. Ordering art supplies from the on-line suppliers is efficient but joyless, and getting a next-day delivery is handy but the packaging is often wasteful. Most importantly, the experience of visiting a store brimming with color, inspiration, and practical advice is gone.
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Rehabilitating a Vintage Grumbacher #286 French Easel
Rediscovering my Art Supplies in the Arizona Desert
Another Art Supply Store Closes
End of an Era: Pearl Paint Closes
TO YOU JEFFREY, PEACE I COULDN’T BELIEVE SOMEONE ELSE WAS AS HEARTBROKEN AND DISTURBED AS I HAVE BEEN WATCHING THE DEMISE OF THESE WONDERFUL HAVENS FOR ARTIST. MY FIRST ART JOB WAS AS THE IN HOUSE GRAPHIC ARTIST FOR ARTHUR BROWN AND BROS. LOW PAY, BUT ALL ART SUPPLIES WERE FREE,THIS WAS BEGINNING IN 78, AND I’D BEEN TO ALL THE PLACES YOU MENTIONED STARTING IN 71, BACK IN MY H.S. OF ART AND DESIGN DAYS. IT’S REALLY VERY SAD, I USED TO BE A BOARD ARTIST. NOW LAYOUTS PASTE UP MECHANICALS (CUT AND PASTE) YOU DO WITH OUT TOUCHING A SINGLE PIECE OF ART EQUIPMENT, TO ME ITS INSANE, NO SOUL REQUIRED. NICE TO KNOW I’M NOT ALONE, I’VE SEEN NYC IN GENERAL UNDERGO THE SAME CHANGES AS THE ART SUPPLY STORES OVER THE DECADES, THIS IS WHAT PASSES FOR PROGRESS. QUE SERA SERA I GUESS, I FEEL FOR YOUNG ARTIST COMING UP THAT THEY WON’T BE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE THAT JOY THAT WE DID, BUT IF YOUR SERIOUS YOU’LL FIND IT GOD WILLING SOMEWHERE. THANKS FOR THE ARTICLE AND TO ALL THOSE WHO WROTE SUCH WARM COMMENTS. I THINK THIS IS THE THIRD TIME I’VE EVER WRITTEN A COMMENT IN RESPONSE TO ANYTHING I READ OR WATCHED ON LINE, THAT’S HOW MUCH THIS HIT HOME, LOVE TO YOU ALL,PEACE,KEEP THE FAITH.
My father ran the framing division of Arthur Brown & Bros (Atlantic Co.) and my brother was the in-house framer for 8 years. I used to hang out in the camera department when I was a kid. I loved that place. Everyone who worked the counters were true specialists ini their field.
I agree with this completely!! I sometimes want to touch and feel the paper and brushes before committing, and online shopping doesn’t allow that. Efficient but joyless captures it. Also it doesn’t give you that immediate gratification. I want my supplies now and I want to carry them home with pride. Thank you for sharing!
Found myself here when a link to Da Vinci wouldn’t open. I haven’t been in NYC for some years, since my daughter and her family left for Raleigh, then Austin, and what you are saying about all the closings is so sad. Went Pearl Paint when they still did live in the city and found 2 small sketchbooks that appealed to me. Did an internship at Pratt Graphics my last year in college, a little south of 14th St, I think it was, and they sent us to NY Central for supplies….Just counter service: we told them what needed and they got it out back. Did it stay that way?
If you return to Maine, you might be encouraged to know we still have two good art supply stores in Portland: the hole-in-the-wall Art Mart on Congress St. across from Maine College of Art, It’s small but with remarkable diversity of items inside, and handy from the printmaking studio where iWork with other members of Peregrine Press-? For who wants to buy that one pen or pencil you need right now online, to wait for shipping and probably to pay more for that shipping than for the pencil. The larger Artist and Craftsman (“A&C”) Supply is out Forest Ave. off Woodford SQ.,tucked between Dunkin’ Donuts and Big Sky Bakery. They have those aisles to wander and those friendly & knowledgeable employees. May they live long and prosper.
Artist and Craftsman is a worker-owned art store chain with three stores in northern Brooklyn. The staff there are knowledgeable, well mannered, and curious.
Linda suggests Dick Blick, 3 stores in Manhattan or Art Student League though small inventory. Mike Nevins
For an artist, it is the only store.
I share your grief.
When all that stuff in front of you
I think ‘One day I’m going to try that paint or return to graphite.‘
Not to mention the possibilities of mixing it all up. I will miss the reverent search and finding.
Check out the oriental bookstore
In China town. (Elizabeth St.) 2nd floor) good brushes, Xuan paper…and Marie’s Water color
East and west versions)
To remember those wonderful
Expeditions smell a bottle of linseed oil now and then.
Thanks for your article
Thanks Martin for the thoughtful comment!
David Davis on / LaGuardia? Crusty. I felt I arrived when the salespeople talked to me respectfully; I think I bought my french easel there and was given a lecture on what to do and not to do.
Wow I never was in that place David Davis. Waited years to get a French Easel but noticed they were no longer made in France. So I scored an oldie on Ebay and spruced it up!