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.
“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.
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)
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.
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 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.
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 — “family” to many generations of noted artists and illustrators.
In 1981, Max Kaplan had already owned his art supply store for 24 years.
Shirley Mellor had worked there for over a decade. She and Max had been married for 5.
That July, Westport photographer Nancy Wayman assembled Max, Shirley, the staff at Max’s Art Supplies, and 100 or so artists who made the store their own personal hangout.
The result was a photo that captured Westport: its arts colony sensibility, its mom-and-pop shops, its downtown funkitude.
The famous 1981 photo. Max wears a tie in the front row; Shirley Mellor is next to him, on the left.
A lot has changed in 34 years. Max and Nancy Wayman died. Max’s closed in August.
In a few days, the sign comes down for the final time.
But before it does, there’s time for one last group photo.
All Westporters — artists, loyal customers, friends, and folks with no artistic talent whatsoever — are invited to gather in front of Max’s this Saturday (May 30), at 5 p.m. There will be one last photo — and Shirley wants as many people as possible to squeeze in. (If you want in, be there by 4:30 — the shutter clicks at 5 sharp, and it will take a while to organize.)
If you don’t know where Max’s was: It stood directly across from the old Y.
And if that sentence doesn’t say something about the changing face of downtown Westport, I don’t know what does.
When Max’s Art Supplies announced it was closing, Amy Kaplan shared the sadness of many. The Westport artist mourned not only the end of a special place, but the loss of a community.
Though Max’s is closing August 30, it will reopen on Friday, September 5 — for one night only.
Amy is organizing a special pop-up art show in the Post Road venue. Owner Shirley Mellor and longtime associate Nina Royce have given their blessings. Supporters include the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, John Hartwell and the Westport Democratic Town Committee, Rockwell Art and Framing, and Parkway Liquor.
From 6-9 p.m. that evening, a juried exhibit will feature some of the area’s most talented artists. The event is free, and open to the public.
Max’s Art Supplies will open soon after it closes — for a special, one-night only event.
“Max’s has been a pillar of the local art community,” Amy says. “I can’t think of a more fitting sendoff for Max’s than this show. It gives artists a chance to show and sell their work, and also reminisce about the role Max’s has played in their lives and development as artists.”
10% of the commission of any sales at the show will go to Max’s.
To help organize the show, submit works, or donate food and beverages, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 203-247-3910.
After reading yesterday’s “06880” post about the final days of Max’s Art Supplies, local artist Miggs Burroughs hustled down to the store he’s loved for so many years.
He wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock, rescued once from another Westport store and long a symbol of the famed art store.
He was just 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 I got to take this historic photo with Shirley Mellor, Rita Ross Englebardt, Jay Cimbak, Nina Royce and Sherri, who was in tears the whole time,” Miggs says. “It was very emotional moment for everyone.”
The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak. (Photo/MIggs Burroughs)
The countdown has begun for Max’s Art Supplies. The legendary 59-year-old downtown store’s last day of business is Saturday, August 30.
Much of the stock has already been sold. But intriguing items remain. They include:
a vintage Karron’s Jewelry clock
a set of 32 oak flat shelves that holds 30″ x 40″ paper
an oak drawer 95 1/2″ long by 25″ deep
a paper cutter
a never-opened “winner waxer”
Some of the special items still available at Max’s.
Paper of all kinds
Picture frames and mats
Back-to-school stuff galore
Plenty of fixtures
A few of the fixtures being sold at Max’s.
The day after closing — Sunday, August 31 (2 p.m.). — owner Shirley Mellor and her staff will hold a “festive celebration” to say goodbye to the community. A special invitation goes to “the artists who have long been with us, and will always be a part of our extended family.”
One more bit of Max’s news: Jay Cimbak, the master picture framer there for the past 25 years, will be the new manager at Rockwell Art and Framing in Westport. It’s just a few doors east of Max’s, on the Post Road.
For nearly 6 decades, Shirley and the rest of the Max’s crew have served Westport with distinction. They’re going out with plenty of class.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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)
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.
(Discounted prices begin June 1. Everything will be for sale, including racks and fixtures.)
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