Paint by Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s revisits the hobby
from the vantage point of the artists and entrepreneurs who created
the popular paint kits, the cultural critics who reviled them, and the
hobbyists who happily completed them and hung them in their homes. Although
many critics saw "number painting" as a symbol of the mindless
conformity gripping 1950s America, paint by number had a peculiarly
American virtue. It invited people who had never before held a paintbrush
to enter a world of art and creativity.
To announce the opening of the exhibition, a banner with a paint-by-number
line-art image will be installed and painted near the Museum's Mall entrance.
The image, determined by a survey of visitors' preferences in pictures, will
be painted daily until completed-about one week.
The exhibition catalog, Paint by Number: The How-to Craze that Swept the Nation,
by William L. Bird Jr., is published by
Princeton Architectural Press
The exhibition was on view at the
National Museum of American History from April 6, 2001 through
January 7, 2002.
Paint by Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s presents the paint-by-number
phenomenon as a window on the history of creativity, leisure, and domesticity in
"Every Man a Rembrandt" features paint-by-number conceptual
and marketing materials from the
National Museum of American History Archives Center and Division
of Social History.
The New Leisure treats the subjective nature of leisure and class
in the 1950s, when more Americans than ever before had free time,
discretionary income, and homes to decorate.
The Picture's Place discusses the paint-by-number contribution
to the do-it-yourself aesthetic of "domestic art" and makes use
of home-furnishing literature and framed paintings suggesting
the hobby's reach into American culture.
The Unfinished Work of Paint By Number, 1960-2001 presents
paint by number as an ongoing symbol of mechanical performance
and mass culture.