Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

Paint-by-Numbers Kit

In the 16th century, the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo began assigning sections of his famous ceilings to his students to paint, prenumbering each one to help curb mistakes. (Yes, this was the world's first paint-by-numbers.) Fast-forward to 1949: package designer Dan Robbins applies Michelangelo's color-coded art process on a much smaller scale. Robbins' boss, Max Klein, owner of the Palmer Paint Co., was hesitant at first but eventually decided to give the idea a try. Robbins and Klein found very little success early on. "In the beginning we couldn't give our sets away," Robbins said. "It took almost two years to get our paint-by-number business off the ground. When we finally did, it took off like a rocket." In 1952, Macy's agreed to stock paint-by-numbers kits, and just a few months later, an amateur painter won third place at a San Francisco art competition with one. The press coverage noted that most people couldn't tell the difference between the kit versions and the original paintings. Eventually, Craft Master kits were such a hit that paint-by-number works by J. Edgar Hoover and Nelson Rockefeller were hung in the West Wing of the White House.