Painting By Numbers


Today is the first anniversary of the death of Dan Robbins. You may not know his name, but you have almost certainly heard of the product he invented — Paint By Numbers.

Long before Bob Ross seduced the PBS audience into believing they could paint, Dan Robbins and the Palmer Paint Company sold millions and millions of kits to upwardly mobile folks in the 1950s and ’60s.  Even my mother and father — without an artistic bone in either body — insisted on placing their paint-by-numbers efforts around the house.

“Robbins’s paint-by-number kits, which were conceived as a way to promote Palmer Paint Co. paint sets to a wider audience,” according to an article in “were developed in conjunction with the company’s owner, Max Klein, and went on sell millions. Robbins was tasked with finding a way to market the paint kits to adults and found inspiration for his blockbuster invention in an odd factoid about the work of Leonardo da Vinci. ‘I remembered hearing that Leonardo used numbered background patterns for his students and apprentices, and I decided to try something like that,’ Robbins said …”

“The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History presented a paint-by-number exhibition in 2001, shifting critical conception of the painting fad from déclassé kitsch to a legitimately interesting and eminently collectible form of popular Americana. In step with the exhibition, Robbins authored a book, Whatever Happened to Paint-By-Numbers?: A Humorous Personal Account of What it Took to Make Anyone an ‘Artist’, but it was clear that he had a humble and balanced view of the artistic importance of his best-known invention.”

On April 1, 2019 Dan Robbins died in Sylvania, Ohio at the age of 93.


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