Postwar Americans were teased with phrases like: “Every man a Rembrandt” or “Paint a beautiful picture the first time you try.” This was in the 1950s, and Americans were welcoming the new concepts of leisure time and disposable income. Dan Robbins, a package designer with a Detroit paint company, was tasked by his boss to tap in on a developing market—the adult hobbyist who aspired to be a painter.
Attempting to appeal to this new audience, Robbins recalled the color numbering system that Leonardo da Vinci developed for his apprentices and applied it to his own landscape paintings. Using this technique, Robbins simplified his paintings into shapes and areas of color. He added numbers to the shapes with a corresponding color palette, and the paint-by-number kit was born and branded Craft Master. Every American was tempted by Craft Master to pick up a paint brush, regardless of ability, and master landscape painting. Artists and critics were appalled and saw this as a violation of artistic principles. However, criticism from the art world was no deterrent and kits were mass-produced and sold by the millions. Themes were expanded to include famous landmarks, portraits of clowns, horses, kittens and puppies, and even Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Proud paint-by-number artists’ actually signed, framed and displayed their work.
Paint-by-number kits are still available today, and are a source of relaxation for stressed out adults. Dan Robbins, the originator of the paint-by-number kit, found great satisfaction in allowing anyone to paint something beautiful. Mr. Robbins passed away last month at the age of 93.
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