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Tag Archives: Max’s Art Supplies
It’s been an almost snowless winter thus far.
I hope I don’t jinx us. But this is what Westport once looked like, this time of year:
Photographer Kevin Slater says he took the Post Road East photo in February or March of 1993.
His clues: A movie on the Fine Arts marquee (now Restoration Hardware) is “The Crying Game.” It premiered on February 19 that year.
And the window of Max’s — the late, much-loved art supplies store — was being decorated for Red Cross Month (which is March).
As for “No Man’s Land”: The snow eventually melted.
It always does.
At first glance, Fred Cantor’s 1976 photo of downtown Westport seems timeless.
The facades on Post Road East look very familiar. More than 40 years later, little has changed.
But look closely. So much is different now.
Three spaces — all in a row — tell the story of downtown Westport, then and now.
Fine Arts Theaters I and II (and their companions, III on Jesup Road and IV a short way east) drew scores of people after dark. They came early for dinner. They had drinks afterward. They window-shopped. They made downtown a destination.
Next door, Fine Art Supplies — rechristened a few years later as Max’s — was much more than a place to pick up watercolors, easels and brushes. It was the center of Westport’s bustling, creative, supportive arts community. World-renowned artists shared stories and secrets. Aspiring painters and illustrators met mentors. Window displays proudly showed Westport’s talent to everyone passing by.
And next door to Max’s stood Schaefer’s Sporting Goods. It catered to an entirely different clientele: jocks. But high school students found a home here too. They bought soccer cleats, bats and skis, sure. But they also hung out. Tip and Charlie Schaefer told them stories, offered tips, and gave them their first jobs.
In short, there were reasons to go downtown. There were things to buy, places to feel comfortable in, people to meet.
All day long, and after dark.
If you’ve got memories of the Fine Arts Theater, Max’s, Schaefer’s — or any other place downtown — click “Comments” below.
From across town and across the country — and from Westport’s artistic present and past — over 100 folks paid tribute today to Shirley Mellor.
The former owner of beloved Max’s Art Supplies — the Post Road store described by Miggs Burroughs as “our town square for artists” — turns 90.
As in, 90 years young.
Though she closed Max’s 4 years ago, she still does yoga 3 times a week. She still tells wonderful stories, and dispenses excellent advice. And she still has countless friends and admirers.
They — and many family members, including a great-granddaughter — honored Shirley at the Westport Woman’s Club this afternoon. Among the attendees were longtime Max’s employees Nina Royce, Rita Engelbardt and Jay Cimbak.
The speeches were heartfelt. The love in the room was palpable.
And Shirley looked fantastic.
Just like old times.
She’s not a politician. She’s not a civic volunteer. She’s not a noted artist.
But politicians, volunteers and artists — especially artists — all love Nina Royce.
And we’ll all miss her, now that she’s left the Westport she loved and served so long and well.
She moved here in 1969, from New Haven. She married a Harvard guy, David Royce. Three children — and a master’s in fine arts — followed.
Nina spent 45 years at Max’s Art Supplies — the beloved downtown gathering spot for artists, designers, and anyone else needing pens, paint or paper. Nina was an important part of the glue that kept this town’s arts scene connected and vibrant.
For the past 3 years — ever since Max’s closed — you could find Nina at Age of Reason. She worked her magic on that innovative toy store’s many devoted customers — young and old.
Nina was also a regular at the Senior Center. She enjoyed exercise classes — and everyone there enjoyed her quiet, sunny presence.
Now it’s time for a change. Nina is moving to Ashland, Oregon. She’ll be near her son Zach, and granddog Otto. Seattle (son Peter) and Minneapolis (daughter Casey) are not too far away.
Nina has put out the welcome mat for Westporters heading west.
Happy (Oregon) trails, Nina, from all of us whose lives you have enriched!
(Hat tip: Jo Shields)
As a 12-year-old Queens girl — visiting her divorced father here in 1969 — Sherri Wolfgang fell in love with Westport.
She was a camper at Mahackeno, and later became an art counselor there. Her dad took her to Max’s Art Supplies, where she bought her first drawing pad.
The budding artist always got an “artists’ vibe” from this town. She grew up, earned a BFA at Carnegie Mellon, and embarked on a career as an illustrator.
Sherri got married, and lived in Greenwich Village. When she had kids, it was time to move to the suburbs. But she wanted a place with that same “great, creative environment.”
In 1992, Westport was that place. Through Max’s — and meeting spots like Glynn’s restaurant — Sherri met artists, illustrators and cartoonists. Stan Drake, Curt Swan and many others welcomed her in.
She formed a studio, called Dynamic Duo. She created covers for Time, Barron’s, Sports Illustrated and Business Week, and helped with ad campaigns for Coca-Cola, Burger King, IBM and MTV. She couriered her work to New York by train, just like all the famed illustrators here did.
In 2004, Sherri turned the studio into an art school. For 2 years she taught her craft to kids and adults.
But she missed painting. Ten years ago she started again. She’s been a full-time painter ever since.
Sherri proudly calls her style “old school.” Figure painting is not as popular today as it once was, she says, but that’s how she was trained. She loves it.
She layers oils and resins in traditional style, like the old masters. But Sherri is not da Vinci, Michelangelo or Rembrandt. Her paintings are contemporary. Many include a bit of whimsy or humor.
She paints large canvases, often in series. “Twisted” — which took several years to conceive, create and complete — portrays women who are addicted to cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t sound funny. But Sherri — who believes that “beauty comes from within” — manages to turn that serious subject on its Botoxed head.
If you recognize some of the women, you should: Sherri used herself as a model.
Now Sherri is gearing up for her biggest show yet. It opens June 1 at Bridgeport’s Housatonic Museum of Art.
Specifically, the Burt Chernow Gallery. It’s named for the longtime professor, who began his teaching career in the Westport school system. He helped found the Westport Arts Center — where Sherri spent plenty of time, in its studio days at Greens Farms School.
Sherri will exhibit 2 complete series. “Nick.e.lo.deon” celebrates the wonders of the human form. Her model was Nick Daley, a Staples High School 2012 graduate and professional dancer.
She’ll also show “Twisted.”
The Chernow connection to Westport’s old arts vibe is important to Sherri. Glynn’s is gone. Max’s closed too.
“I’d walk in to buy art supplies, and end up hanging out for hours with Shirley, Nina and Jay,” Sherri recalls. “That was our haven.”
When owner Shirley Mellor sold everything in August 2014, Sherri bought its iconic clock. She beat out fellow artist Miggs Burroughs by a minute. He’s still a friend, as is Nina Bentley — reminders that despite many chances, artists still live, work and thrive here.
Ten years after resuming painting, Sherri says she is in “mid-career.” She feels “lucky and honored” to be able to work in her large, bright and art-filled South Kings Highway studio.
After years of study — including lugging large books of the masters home from the Westport Library — Sherri says, “Things make sense now. I’m a more confident painter. My brush strokes are more solid. And I know when a painting is done. When it’s finished, I can walk away.”
With “Nick.e.lo.deon” and “Twisted” done — and preparations underway for her Housatonic show — Sherri is ready for her next series.
Called “American Pathos,” it’s based on what she sees as her daughters and their Staples friends begin their adult lives. (Sherri calls Class of ’12 grad Maya Schumer — a neuroscience major at Carnegie Mellon — and current junior Eden Schumer “my best works of art.”)
Those young women and their friends wear earrings and tattoos. Sherri will paint those — with Renaissance backgrounds.
Move over, Old Masters. I can’t call Sherri Wolfgang a New Mistress — but I sure can be at her Burt Chernow Gallery opening this spring.
“06880” is not in the business of promoting upcoming art exhibits. There are too many worthy ones — how can I single out any?
But rules are made to be broken. Two upcoming events are well worth your time. Both have local roots — and are also of global interest.
“Westport to Cuba: Building Bridges” takes place at the Saugatuck Congregational Church on Friday, January 6 (5 to 8 p.m.). Over 50 large photos will be displayed, from the church’s mission trip last June. This is a great way to see one of the world’s most fascinating and quickly changing countries, through the eyes of 25 Staples High School students and 15 adult chaperones.
The next day (Saturday, January 7, 12 to 4 p.m.), the Westport Historical Society hosts an “Art to the Max, Now or Never” sale and celebration. It’s the last day of their exhibit about Max’s Art Supplies, the iconic downtown store that drew together Westport’s artists’ community, which in turn influenced American illustration.
Original art — from some of the over 70 famous artists and cartoonists in the show — will be on sale.
(PS: If you haven’t yet seen the exhibit, go! There’s a recreation of owner Shirley Mellor’s classic corner of the store, a replica of the famous clock — and a sampling of the amazing art displayed in Max’s window during the store’s fantastic 4-decade run.)
Over a year ago — as Max’s Art Supplies was ready to close, and everything inside was for sale — I posted a story.
Miggs Burroughs wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock. Rescued once from another Westport store, it had served for years as a symbol of the famed art store.
He was a minute late. Sherri Wolfgang — a close friend — had already bought it. She told Miggs she’d wanted it since she was 8 years old, and bought her first sketch pad at Max’s.
At least Miggs got this memorable photo:
After staying in one spot for decades, the clock has now taken on a life of its own.
The other day, Ron Hofaker emailed me. He is not an alert “06880” reader. The only reason he knows about this blog is because — well, let him tell it:
Recently a friend called me at home in Hannacroix, New York. He said he was at a sale in Pleasant Valley, New York. I have been in the market for vintage midget race car parts. He believed he had found some.
He hadn’t. Not wanting to leave empty-handed after my hour-plus drive, I spotted a clock in the kitchen. After a bit of negotiation I purchased it.
Curious about its origin, I googled the name and found your site. Wish I had more to tell you about it.
Ron sent a photo. It sure looks like the same clock:
It has no sentimental value for Ron . He’s offering it to any Westporter (or former resident) who wants it.
If you’re interested, email me: email@example.com.
But Miggs gets first dibs.
The removal last weekend of Max’s Art Supplies’ iconic sign — and the snapping of a group photo reminiscent of a 1981 shot with 100 artists, not to mention a recent “06880” post connecting the end of “Mad Men” with a Westport art director — got John Kennedy thinking.
The longtime local resident is one of a once-large-but-fast-diminishing crowd of artists, illustrators, admen and other creative types who once kept Max’s hopping. As well as many other Westport businesses (including, significantly, bars and restaurants).
As Max’s sign came down, Kennedy recalled those long-gone days. In 1970 he’d returned home from the Air Force determined to do professionally what he’d done in the service: be an illustrator.
“Westport had always been a center of excellence, and I was determined to succeed,” Kennedy says. “I thought to be part of the scene, I had to ‘make the scene.'”
So he headed to Max’s. He picked up a shading stomp, some charcoal pencils, a couple of pads and a kneaded eraser.
The bill was $20. He did not have it.
He started to put some items back. Max Kaplan stepped up.
“An artist needs his tools,” the owner said. “I’ll give you credit.” He told Shirley Mellor to open account for Kennedy.
“I had no credit,” the budding illustrator says. “Max said, ‘I trust you.'”
Kennedy walked out with everything he needed. A month later, he paid Max back.
Kennedy went on to work for Golf Digest and Tennis Magazine. More magazines, some illustrations, book designs, and an agency called The Art Department followed.
Through it all, Max’s was Kennedy’s go-to place. As a director, he happily sent others to the store too.
Then the world changed. With computers, Kennedy says, “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 of the skill, talent, education and technique disappeared.”
Today, he adds, “artists are leaving us. They are replaced by wannabe idiots who know nothing, and do little but talk.”
As Max’s closed last year, Kennedy called himself “the last director. The last of my breed. I will hide, and let the world only wonder what true art is. Nobody cares.”
But Kennedy still has his memories — of Max’s, and the Westport community that nurtured it and its artists.
He ordered western-theme books from Stan Klein. Greenwood Press on Riverside Avenue was Kennedy’s advertising account. For 20 years he prepared their ads, brochures and promotional materials.
Westport Bank & Trust manager Fred Shepard gave Kennedy his 1st credit card, at a time when returning veterans could not get credit. Fred also set up Kennedy’s retirement.
Cartoonist Stan Drake shot the breeze with him at a restaurant that is now a real estate office. Illustrator Bernie Fuchs provided wise counsel; Harold von Schmidt provided Kennedy’s 1st lesson in western art composition. Kennedy calls them “giants in the art field.”
Kennedy did not hang out only with other artists, of course. He played in a coed softball league, with and against people from all local businesses. (“Westport had the most beautiful girls, making the game hard to concentrate on,” he recalls.)
He fished at Burying Hill Beach. He bought skis from Sport Mart on Main Street, and played tennis with a racquet from Schaefer’s (next door to Max’s).
Somehow, Kennedy always circles back to Max’s.
“Through the years, the best talent in the world walked through its doors,” he says. “Red Wexler, Walt Spitzmiller, Bob Peake, Bob Heindel, Tony Ravieli, Stan Lee, Randy Enos, Miggs Burroughs and so many others.
“All of them were at Max’s, and all of them were always encouraging. I owe my start, and my career to them. They are my true family.”
The iconic Max’s Art Supplies sign came down for the final time this afternoon.
And — in a reprise of the famed 1981 photo, showing 100 Westport artists gathered in front of their favorite store — Dave Matlow took a similar image today.
Shirley Mellor — Max’s widow, and the owner — is standing in the blue “Max’s 50th” shirt, directly between the “A” and the “X.” Next to her, on the left, is longtime employee Nina Royce.
There are plenty of other famed faces here. Who else can you spot? (Click or hover over the photo to enlarge.)