Paint-by-numbers gets collectors' stamp of approval

September 24, 1993|By Mary Daniels | Mary Daniels,Chicago Tribune

The number's up on what is considered to be one of the hottest new collectibles -- paint-by-number "art."

"They're part of the consciousness of anybody that's alive in America," says Paul Bridgewater, co-owner of Bridgewater/Lustberg Gallery in New York's SoHo district, about the frenzy over the paintings.

His gallery is credited with fueling the craze when it held the "world premiere" paint-by-number exhibit in April 1992. Titled "The Fortieth Anniversary of Paint-by-Number Paintings," the exhibit drew 1,000 people on its opening night and set off a media frenzy.

"We were on everything from Connie Chung ("Eye to Eye with Connie Chung") to the BBC, the CBC and we were in HG, Vanity Fair, Interview, the New York Times, New York, the New Yorker, Associated Press . . ." Mr. Bridgewater says. "Everyone in the media understood it to be tongue-in-cheek." The origins of paint-by-number kits are debatable.

New Yorker Michael O'Donoghue, a paint-by-number collector who's writing a book on the subject, says Max Klein, owner of the Detroit-based Palmer Paint Co., and a Detroit-area artist named Dan Robbins, started a company called Craft Master which introduced the kits in 1952.

By 1954, some 12 million Craft Master paint-by-number kits had been sold for a few bucks each in hobby shops and drugstores.

However, Chicago artist Don Baumsays he's found some signed and dated from the '30s.

Paint-by-numbers have become "a fun, new, inexpensive collectible," says Dennis Daurer, co-owner of Millenium Antiques Chicago, where the Midwest's premiere exhibit and sale of 80 framed paint-by-number works is being held through Oct. 1.

"People see them, they smile and laugh. They bring out memories," Mr. Daurer says of his 80-piece show, which runs the gamut from florals, still-lifes, barns, streams, desert scenes, dogs, birds, horses and kittens.

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