Tag Archives: Max’s Art Supplies

Remembering Shirley Mellor

Shirley Mellor — the beloved former owner of the almost-as-beloved Max’s Art Supplies — died yesterday. She was 92 years old.

Three years ago in March, over 100 people — from across town and across the country, and from Westport’s artistic present and past — paid tribute, on her 90th birthday.

Shirley Mellor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Though she closed Max’s 7 years ago, she still did yoga 3 times a week, nearly until her death. She told wonderful stories, and dispensed excellent advice.

Among the attendees at her birthday celebration were longtime Max’s employees Nina Royce, Rita Engelbardt and Jay Cimbak. Miggs Burroughs called Max’s — one of the anchors of Post Road East, next to the former Restoration Hardware — “Westport’s town square for artists.” Much of that was because of Shirley’s care and concern for our town’s artists. Professional or amateur, she loved — and helped — them all.

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In May of 2014, I wrote about Max’s closing. It’s a fitting epitaph for a remarkable, much-admired woman.

In mid-September the Westport Y leaves downtown, for new digs at Mahackeno.

A few days earlier, another longtime Post Road anchor will also go.

Max’s — a legendary art supply store (and, just as important, social hub for painters, illustrators and cartoonists) — closes on September 1.

Max's Art Supplies -- a long and familiar Post Road store.

Max’s Art Supplies — a long and familiar Post Road store.

For 59 years Max’s has occupied prime real estate, directly opposite the Y. But the end of Westport as an “artists’ colony,” coupled with the increasing role of technology in both art and commerce, spelled the end.

Owner Shirley Mellor has held on longer than any other merchant would. It’s been years since she’s made any money. But — as much as she loves her employees, her town and her dwindling customer base — she can’t lose money forever.

Max’s dates back to 1956, when Max Kaplan bought Fine Arts Stationers. He replaced paper and candy with pens, sketch pads, paints, brushes and canvases.

Part of a shelf at Max's, last Friday.

Part of a shelf at Max’s, last Friday.

Shirley was Max’s wife. He died in 1983. The next year she married artist Gordon Mellor, a widower. He died in 2001.

“We played a huge role in the art life of Westport,” Shirley says proudly. “All the artists knew us. And they were a sizable number.”

They came to Max’s for supplies, and stayed to socialize. Whitney Darrow Jr., Stevan Dohanos, Bernie Fuchs, Mel Casson, Dik Browne, Mort Walker, Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, Eric von Schmidt, Constance Kiermaier, Tom Funk, Gill Fox, Naiad and Walter Einsel, Ward Brackett, Neil Hardy, Miggs Burroughs — the names roll off Shirley’s tongue, like the old friends they were.

She points to a photo from 1981. It was Max’s 25th anniversary. A hundred artists posed on the sidewalk outside.

The famous 1981 photo. Another was taken in 2006, for Max's 50th anniversary.

The famous 1981 photo. Another was taken in 2006, for Max’s 50th anniversary.

Today, at least half are dead. That’s one reason Max’s is closing.

Another is the new nature of the art industry. The advent of computers changed the way illustrators worked. The rise of e-commerce changed the way they bought supplies.

Through the 1980s too, Westport was known as a marketing mecca. Industrial designers and marketing corporations were steady customers. When they moved out, Max lost more business.

For longer than she cares to recount, the store has not made money. At age 70 — well over a decade ago — Shirley took herself off the payroll.

Shirley Mellor at her desk, surrounded by original art from grateful customers.

Shirley Mellor at her desk, surrounded by original art from grateful customers.

Then she started subsidizing Max’s, out of her own pocket. She’s lucky, she says — she owns half of the building, as well as those that house neighboring Fig (formerly Schaefer’s Sporting Goods) and Dovecote (the old smoke shop, Quick Copy and beauty salon). “It was a good investment,” she says.

But it does not make up for the money that Max’s has been losing for so long.

Things were different, back in the day. The Fine Arts Theaters (now Restoration Hardware and Matsu Sushi) brought people downtown. So did the popular Ships Restaurant (now Tiffany).

“People were around. Now they’re not,” says Nina Royce.

Nina Royce, with plenty of "stuff" still left at Max's.

Nina Royce, with plenty of “stuff” still left at Max’s.

Nina has worked at Max’s since 1969. In 1975, she created the first window display of Westport artists. Since then — every month — Nina has made that spot an ever-changing, always-intriguing exhibition of local creativity.

New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer — a former Westporter — once wrote of a New York City gallery, “I’ve seen better shows at Max’s than this one.”

Nina — whose husband David died last month — does not know what she’ll do now. Neither does 10-year employee Rita Ross Englebardt (whose husband died just a few days before Nina’s).

Talented framer Jay Cimbak is lucky. He will work on his own, once he finds a spot.

“We just can’t do it any more,” Shirley says wistfully. “We absolutely can’t make a living here. It’s a whole different world. We hung on as long as possible. Every day I lose money. Kids still come in with school projects. But we can’t make money on crayons.”

When the Fine Arts Theaters closed in 1999, Max's next door felt the effects. (Photo/ Miggs Burroughs)

When the Fine Arts Theaters closed in 1999, Max’s next door felt the effects. (Photo/ Miggs Burroughs)

So there is no longer a place for an art supply store in downtown Westport. But what does that mean?

“You’ll lose the personal touch, the interactions,” Nina says. “Our customers are familiar to us. We’ve watched them grow. You don’t get that in a chain store, or on the internet.”

“It’s a different Main Street now,” Shirley adds. “There’s no hardware store, drugstore, grocery store or gas station. That’s where you get the personal attention.”

She says — trying to smile — “We’re heartbroken. We’ve been so happy to be here. We want to thank our customers. We will sure miss them. Hopefully, they’ll miss us.”

Shirley looks at the wall full of art — gifts from grateful cartoonists and illustrators — hanging above her desk. She hopes to donate it to the Westport Historical Society.

It’s a history of Westport art, over the past 6 decades. It’s great, and all original.

But nowhere near as great, or original, as Shirley, Nina and Max’s Art Supplies have been to us.

If your browser does not take you directly to the Westport Historical Society’s oral history interview of Shirley Mellor, click here. Hat tips: Betsy Pollak and Miggs Burroughs.

Pic Of The Day #923

The old Max’s Art Supplies’ brown color scheme is changing. The new tenant will be LoveSac, a modular furniture store. (Photo/Kathie Motes Bennewitz)

Friday Flashback #128

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:

(Photo/Kevin Slater)

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.

Friday Flashback #115

At first glance, Fred Cantor’s 1976 photo of downtown Westport seems timeless.

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

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.

Happy 90th, Shirley Mellor!

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.

Shirley Mellor (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

Nina Royce Heads West

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.

Nina Royce (far left) with Max’s colleagues — and the store’s famous Karron’s clock.

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)

Nina Royce (seated, center) was feted by friends last week. She’s already on her way to Oregon.

Sherri Wolfgang Masters Painting

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.

Sherri Wolfgang, in her Kings Highway South studio. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

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.

“Lunching in Westport,” from Sherri Wolfgang’s “Twisted” series. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

She’s had group shows at the Westport Arts Center and Silvermine Guild, plus solo shows at Nylen Gallery here and City Lights in Bridgeport.

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.

One of Sherri Wolfgang’s “Nick.e.lo.deon” paintings. (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

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.

Sherri Wolfgang (center) with Max’s Art Supplies’ famous Karron’s clock. She’s surrounded by (from left) Max’s famed Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Shirley Mellor (owner) and Jay Cimbak.

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.

Where Westport Meets The (Art) World

“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.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

A poster for the Saugatuck Church exhibit shows the 1970s-era, Partridge Family-style bus the Westporters used during their trip to Cuba last June.

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.)

"Shirley's corner," at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

“Shirley’s corner,” at the Westport Historical Society. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

Time For A Mystery

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:

Max's famous Karron's clock with (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor and Jay Cimbak.

Max’s famous Karron’s clock with (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor and Jay Cimbak.

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:

Karron's 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: dwoog@optonline.net.

But Miggs gets first dibs.

An Art Director Draws On The Past

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.

John Kennedy modeling around 1980 for the famed Civil War illustrator Don Stivers. All the gear is authentic.

John Kennedy modeling around 1980 for the famed Civil War illustrator Don Stivers. All the gear is authentic.

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.

One of John Kennedy's first paintings. Max Kaplan sold him the canvas. Shirley Mellor sold him the See-Rite projector for scrap use. Nina Royce sold him the paints after Shirley recommended that he use colored pencil and acrylic because, she said,

One of John Kennedy’s first paintings. Max Kaplan sold him the canvas. Shirley Mellor sold him the See-Rite projector for scrap use. Nina Royce sold him the paints after Shirley recommended usiing colored pencil and acrylic because, she said, “once it is dry, it is permanent!” And Jay Cimbak framed it.

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.”

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

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.”

Max's famous clock with (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak --

Max’s famous clock with (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak — “family” to many generations of noted artists and illustrators.