The Art Materials Collection: A Personal Vision

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When a consumer enters an art material supply store that is privately owned, the contents of the store is a blend of the consumer products that are most sought after by patrons of the store, the recommended stock of materials provided by a distributor and the personal preferences of the individual who owns the store.  

Selective, personal preferences along with many of the mainstream items are the foundation of the collection of art materials housed in the National Gallery of Art. The idea to build a collection was the desire of the late Zora Pinney and her husband Edward who together ran a retail art materials store in the late 20th century in Los Angeles. Zora’s store was her life and the embodiment of the kinds of materials that she believed artists should use.

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She ran her store with a stock of products that she used and tested herself. Dozens of test panels with swatches of color set up in southern facing windows for months of exposure to strong sunlight provided Zora with the assurance that a pigment contained in a paint she sold would stand up to the rigors of light exposure. She corresponded directly with manufacturers and raw materials suppliers to find the best products that she could sell to artists.

The Art Materials Research and Study Center contains samples of art materials, product literature for consumers and a substantial amount of correspondence between Zora Pinney and art materials manufacturers. Overall they provide an intimate glimpse into the world of the art materials trade.

This website will continue to expand and provide project features that highlight various aspects of the collection as well as articles on the history of art materials that will inform and entertain those who visit this section of the conservation division’s public outreach.

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The collection contains more than 18,000 items and each one has a story to tell.  Over time highlights and interesting historical notes related to the collection will be featured on this website area. The collection serves as a repository to capture the manufacturing and sales of art materials conducted during the late 20th century with additional holdings of materials that compliment the collection from 21st-century manufacturing sources.

Inquiries about the collection and its contents are welcome from the pubic. For those conducting research that requires interaction with the materials in the collection, we have created research guidelines that are available through your inquiry. Funding sources for public outreach using the collection are limited so the collection is not open for casual daily visitors. However, serious inquiries and research that requires information or analytical samples from the collection will be entertained and fulfilled based on the merits of the project. Please direct all inquiries to dcl@nga.gov and include the words “Art Materials Research and Study Center” in the subject of the e-mail.