Paint by Number: The How-To Craze that Swept the Nation

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9781568982823: Paint by Number: The How-To Craze that Swept the Nation

What is the fascination of paint by numbers? Is it the intoxicating and compulsive act of filling in small pools of color? Or the easy thrill of creating your own impressionist masterpiece? Or a fond nostalgic yearning for a craze that cut across national boundaries and age groups? Invented in 1951 by Dan Robbins-based on an idea used by Leonardo da Vinci to teach painting-the paint-by-number craze reached its zenith in the 1950s but continues even today as paints and kits are avidly collected, exhibited in galleries, and traded on eBay. In Paint By Number, author Larry Bird takes us on an unbelievable journey where art meets kitsch and popular and high cultures collide in a collage of home economics, leisure time fun, and art education, Bird revisits the hobby from the vantage point of the artists and entrepreneurs who created the popular paint kits, the critics who reviled them, and the consumers who enthusiastically filled them in and hung them in their homes. Paint By Number includes over 200 examples of paint-by-number ephemera and two pull-out paintings ready to be filled-in!

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Review:

A mass culture obsessed with suburbia, leisure, and consumerism that sought access to high culture: that was 1950s America. Naturally, it was obsessed with paint by number, where all of these cross. A companion to an exhibition at the Smithsonian, Paint by Number follows the craze from its start to Andy Warhol's famous appropriation of the method in his "Do It Yourself" series. Paint by number pitted the creative against the mechanical, and deeply questioned art by giving everyone a paintbrush. This is a scholarly book and, at the same time, a comfortable read (as are most Princeton Architectural Press books), full of paintings, photographs, and ephemera such as advertisements and package designs, which alone stand as proof that one product can retell a critical part of the cultural history of America. It is a fantastic book for anyone interested in the intersection between art and culture in this fast-changing era. --Juliette Cezzar

From Library Journal:

Invented in 1949 and reaching its zenith in the mid-Fifties, when millions of craft kits marketed with the slogan "Every man a Rembrandt" were sold for around $2.50 each, the paint-by-number fad spread throughout Eisenhower's burgeoning America, where garish scenes of covered bridges, dogs, ships, and cowboys hung over the sofas of new tract homes. This entertaining book accompanies an exhibition of 200 examples at the National Museum of American History on view through the end of 2001. Bird, a Smithsonian curator and author (Better Living, etc.), traces the history of the hobby and its mass appeal to middlebrow aspirations to culture, as well as the art world's derisively dismissive reactions. He also recounts fascinating examples of the fad's place in American culture, including the Stephens Collection of paint-by-number canvases completed by J. Edgar Hoover, Nelson Rockefeller, and other administration officials and displayed in the West Wing of the White House. As a bonus, two blank paintings with color instructions are reproduced inside the foldout covers. Recommended for American cultural history sections in libraries at all levels. Russell T. Clement, Northwestern Univ. Lib., Evanston, IL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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