Max’s Art Supplies: A Friend Remembers

Monday’s story about the end of Max’s Art Supplies’ 59-year run made many readers think about what the store meant to them.

Alert reader John Kennedy sent along these thoughts:

When I first returned home, I was going to be an illustrator. This is what I had been in the Air Force and it was what I wanted to do as a civilian. Max’s was the store I went to.

Westport had always been a center of excellence and I was determined to be a success. I thought that to be part of the scene, I must “make the scene.”

So I went in and picked up a shading stomp, some charcoal pencils, a couple of pads and a kneaded eraser. The bill was about $20, but I didn’t have enough money. I started to put some things back, when Max stepped up. He said, “an artist needs his tools. I’ll give you credit.” Max told Shirley to open an account for me. I had no credit. It was 1970. I had just been discharged. With a smile, Max said, “I trust you.”

I walked out with everything. In a month I paid him back.

One of John Kennedy's first paintings.

One of John Kennedy’s first paintings.

From that I went on to work for the New York Times company through Golf Digest and Tennis Magazines. Then more magazines. I illustrated a bit, designed books, ran an internet agency. All the time, Max’s was my go-to place. As a director, I could send others to Max’s, and I did.

Then the world changed. With the computer, publishers no longer cared about quality. They took design and excellence, and turned it over to lesser staff to “just get it out.” Illustration was done in the box. All the skill, talent, education and technique disappeared. Today, one by one, the artists are leaving us. They are replaced by wannabe idiots who know nothing, and do little but talk.

Today I will visit Shirley, Nina and Jay. I will bring in coffee and we will once again relive, for one bright shining moment, the years of real and true art.

I am the last of my breed. When Max’s leaves, I will hide and let the world only wonder what true art is. Nobody cares. We are a community, we are the artists, Shirley’s, Nina’s and Jay’s guys. I am the last director.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.

John Kennedy around 1980. He was modeling for Civil War illustrator and painter Don Stivers. All of the gear is authentic.


5 responses to “Max’s Art Supplies: A Friend Remembers

  1. This is old school — the best. When I read the first “Max’s is closing” story– the loss I felt, let alone the iconic storefront Westport will lose forever, I got really down for Westport and for a lost era that is getting more buried. I know some Westporters are working hard to preserve some of the Golden Age of Westport before it all gets torn down. The Max’s aren’t ever coming back anywhere. Used to go in there with my dad who painted as a hobby and for special school project materials. One of a kind store.

    Westport has always been unique and special. The historic landscapes and places are worth preserving as well as keeping some of lesser, older homes as another reader pointed out in a different 06880, for a more diverse and interesting population. John said it all here and said it really old school. Kind of a haunting report here reminding us that this is “progress.”

  2. Karen Huppi Vail

    I just wanted to give John Kennedy some encouragement: my grandfather was an artist, my father was an artist (both of their day jobs were in advertising art, old style), all three of my father’s daughters are involved in the arts. My father used to take us to Max’s for supplies, he went there a lot , to purchase supplies and to talk with everyone there. My 27 year old daughter carries on the tradition as an artist, the first to strive to actually make a living at it. She is beginning to have some success, she’s at the beginning of her career, and yes, many aspects of being an artist have changed due to the Internet (including the tragic demise of Max’s and many small businesses), but there will always be art & artists, because we humans have always needed & wanted to make it and enjoy it. That will never change. Please don’t give up on your art. Dive back in, there are people out here waiting to see & appreciate it.

  3. I grew up in Westport at the time of the great illustrators, Famous Artists School, and Max’s – a perfect environment for a future illustrator and portrait artist. Hearing about the store closing is like a death in the family. Max, Shirley and Nina have been so good to me, and to Westport. Their “front window shows” featuring an artist or art dedicated to a good cause have boosted many careers and local philanthropic efforts. Yesterday, members of the Connecticut Society of Portrait Artists were part of a portraiture demo at the Greenwich Town Party. Our display was graced by the traditional hand calligraphed writeup about CSOPA that had been created for our group exhibit in Max’s windows.

    I often reminisce with other native Westporters about the demise of the ma and pa businesses that were part of our youth. But Max’s was more than that, it was an icon of the time when Westport was an artists’ enclave, when the library’s extensive photo files were in constant use by local artists, when Stephen Dohanos was painting murals to grace our schools and official buildings. And for me, for whom art had always been my first love, it was my candy store, a place that inspired and delighted and helped me dream the person I would be as an adult.

    Thanks, Max’s.

  4. Margaret Hart Rynshall

    He had me at shading stomp.

  5. Holly Wheeler

    RIP Max’s. The last of the great art stores. Thank you for always treating Westport and your customers like family.