Painting Inside the Lines

In the ’50s anyone could paint a lush landscape or even the Mona Lisa. Paint by numbers turned amateurs into artists—or at least made them feel that way—with the help of a numbered paint set and corresponding canvas. This year, 50 years since the launch of the first Craft Master kit, Paint by Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s opened at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Presenting the paint-by-number phenomenon as a guide to the history of creativity, leisure and domesticity in postwar America, the exhibition explores the pastime from its inception to its critics and collectors. Reviled by some who saw them as a symbol of mindless conformity, paint by numbers soared to popularity with $12 million in sales during their first three years on the market. “I think the first thing paint by numbers did for anyone was take the fear out of picking up a brush, dipping it in paint and brushing it onto a surface,” says creator Dan Robbins.

Following their huge popularity and their subsequent retreat into basements and attics across the country, paint by numbers are now considered collector’s items. To find out more about paint-by-number kits past, present and future check out the following online resources: Find out more about paint-by-number kits past, present and future from the following resources:

  • Paint by Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s runs through December 31. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is located at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20565. For more information, call 202/357-2700 or visit www.american The show’s catalog, Paint by Numbers: The How-to Craze That Swept the Nation (Princeton Architectural Press) is also available online at
  • At, you can learn fun facts or browse through a paint-by-number gallery.
  • 1-2-3 ART will transform your photograph into a personalized paint-by-number kit. For more information, call 877/412-3278 or visit
  • Craft House International, which bought the Craft Master line from Palmer Paint Co., offers both acrylic and oil paint-by-number sets and is located at 328 N. Westwood Ave., Toledo OH 43607. Tel: 800/537-0295. Web site:
  • Paint-by-number kits for children and adults are available from ColArt Americas Inc., which is located at 11 Constitution Ave., Piscataway NJ 08855. Tel: 800/445-4278. Web site:
  • PaintWorks offers 84 paint-by-number designs in various sizes. Kits include acrylic paints, paintbrush and pre-printed artboard or wood plaque. Contact Dimensions at 1801 N. 12th St., Reading PA 19604. Tel: 800/523-8452. Web site:
  • Hobby World of Montreal, which offers acrylic, watercolor and oil paint-by-number kits, is located at 4540 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal, Quebec H4A 1V9 Canada. Tel: 888/462-2996. Web site:
  • Get the inside scoop from creator Dan Robbins at This site also tells you how to get news, editorials and updates about the paint-by-number trading world with Larry Rubin’s quarterly newsletter. For more information or a subscription, contact Rubin at 2100 NE 52nd Court, Fort Lauderdale FL 33308. Tel: 954/523-7792.

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