“Giving back” and “paying it forward” are two tenets of Jack Richeson’s way of doing business. Keep scrolling to read our full interview with Richeson.
TAM:Your Confessions of a Brush Peddler tells a wonderful story of a young man who fell in love with art materials and art. When you look back at your many years in the business, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Running a family business is a challenge that is never completely met. When I began Jack Richeson and Co., Inc. over 30 years ago, I never imagined that one day this business, in an industry I love, would be able to provide an income not only for 8 family members, but also for over 60 employees. I have been told that instead of children I raised “Pit Bulls,” and yet, somehow at the end of the day, Family wins out.
The Jack Richeson & Co. plant in Kimberly, Wisconsin has 25,000 additional square feet to accommodate both gallery shows and workshops. The Art School/Gallery is open for exhibitions and classes well into the evening. What inspired that decision to make your company’s headquarters the hub of a community of artists, students of all ages, collectors, and appreciators of the arts?
First and foremost, it is a way we can give back to the local community. With shrinking K-12 and University budgets to support the arts, our Gallery offers a venue to experience a broad range of work from Modern Day artists from all over the U.S. It is not uncommon to have a class of students from a local school tour the facility. How amazing it would be if just one student was inspired to follow a dream based on some of the works seen in our facility or because of a class taken in our School of Art! The gallery is open to the public, free of charge, and we hold children’s classes and free seniors’ classes, as well as week-long workshops with Master Artists.
But then there is The Addiction: painters and paintings. I now own over six hundred paintings that we proudly hang in my gallery. I have a place to exhibit my love. My children daily tell me that when I die there will be no inheritance because I have invested it all on the Gallery. That said, each of them is a collector; they all share my love of art and artists.
Your company is truly a family business; what advantages and opportunities have followed from that?
Perhaps the greatest advantage is the sense of closeness and unity. Life can be hard. That’s when being a family business is amazing. We all pull together with a common goal. Not to say it is without challenges. (Remember “The Pit Bulls?” Strong personalities make for interesting board meetings.) But at the end of the day, we have each other. Opportunities? WOW! With five of my kids and my granddaughter in key roles, the opportunities are endless. Each comes with a special talent that brings a different facet to the Bright Diamond of this company.
What product is your sentimental favorite and why?
Shiva Oils and Casein! (Now under the brand name Richeson~Shiva Series.) I will always remember the Great Chicago artists in the early 1950’s arguing about a Cerulean Blue. At sixteen, how was I to know if it was too warm or too cool? Today, our Casein line has 32 beautiful colors – complete with a gorgeous Cerulean Blue of just the right shade, and our oil line has 70 colors. I remember watching Chester Gould using Higgins Ink to draw Dick Tracy. Just the other day I was talking to a young artist that had never heard of Dick Tracy. It was the beginning of love.
What is the most significant way in which the business has changed in the last 30 years?
Over the years, products have come and gone. To look back at the days of Zipatone, Bourges, Cello-Tak, Letraset, Cel-Vinyl. Fifty years ago, every artist material shop made its living from the “Graphic Business”. There were no “silly computers”, just fantastic PAINTERS. Today, three quarters of those shops are gone and so are so many of the materials. And it will only get worse, with mail order and deep discounts. Where will you go on a Saturday morning to get that very important tube of Cad Red. The shop is gone; they couldn’t make it on a few small Saturday sales.
And so, being feeble and old and very thick-skinned, I started THE BRUSH PEDDLER. I have to be very careful that customers do not think that I am competing with them, but I now stock and sell that offbeat, weird item that no one else will bother with. There’s no profit in it in the normal way, but an immense sense of joy when that painter says, “My God! I haven’t seen linen canvas like that in years!”
What will be the biggest challenge facing the art materials industry in the next 30 years? What opportunities will manifest themselves and where will they come from?
I worry about the future for the fine art painter. In the old days when shops were owned by frustrated painters, things were so different. They didn’t understand “TURNS.” Return on investment was “What did you say you needed?” I knew shops that would keep an item on the shelf for years just to please that one painter.
Today every item must meet its TURNS whether it is important to the artist or not. I worry that the artist of tomorrow may not be able to get many things. If the business man doesn’t kill it, the government may. Where, for example, do you find Lead White, the original Flake White?
What would you like The Artist’s Magazine’s readers to know about the Jack Richeson & Co.?
We are passionate about the artist and art. We are committed to producing High End Professional Materials. Sure, we offer some inexpensive price-conscious products but our love is in quality, U.S. manufactured products and offering the artist materials they can count on. Lastly, how many companies do your readers buy from make the CEO and Top Officers available to speak with? We love talking with artists…hearing what they like or are looking for in the materials they paint with. Is there something you like? Call us. If there is something you don’t like? Call us. The family is available. We love hearing from our painter friends.
So what’s it all about? At 81 I’m too old to chase girls and my wife won’t let me. My children ration my cocktails, so my joy is a visit with Ray Kinstler, Steve Quiller, Ramon Kelly, Skip Whitcomb, Chris Van Winkle, Tom Fong and so many other fantastic painters that I’ve had the pleasure to meet and call my friends.