Max's Arts Supplies draws sentimental crowd for last hurrah
Published 7:55 am, Monday, September 1, 2014
Shirley Mellor has lived a life as colorful as the watercolors, acrylics and oil paints she has sold in the last 59 years, rubbing elbows with the art world's elite that she catered to as the owner of Max's Art Supplies on Post Road East.
Max's clientele dominated the comic strips and covers of magazines -- Mort Walker of "Beetle Bailey" fame, Dik Browne, who drew the "Hagar the Horrible" and "Hi & Lois" cartoons, New Yorker cartoonist Whitney Darrow Jr.
Sunday was more of a monochromatic day, probably in shades of gray, for Mellor, whose heart was heavy at the closing of the store she founded with her late husband, Max Kaplan, in 1956. Instead of art supplies the store shelves were filled with original art from grateful customers and creatively crafted thank you messages.
"I'm doing a lot of smiling; smiling on the outside," Mellor said as she moved through the crowd of visitors in the store -- at least 250 friends and professional painters, illustrators and cartoonists, all of them long-time customers who turned out for a final farewell.
Some, like Bride Whelan, traveled a distance to be a part of the store's last hurrah. Whelan lives in Savannah, Ga., now, but said she had to attend because Max's was a big part of her life. She did all the calligraphy in the window displays for the store "for 40 years, 480 months' worth."
Melanie Bell, an artist from Westport, said she will miss the convenience of Max's. "There is no other place around." Bell has designed scarves for the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop and wrapping paper for the Smithsonian Institution, creating those works of art using supplies from Max's including "a German pen with a very, very fine point."
They shared memories and left Mellor's desk laden with gifts.
"I was delighted with the people who showed up," Mellor said.
Fairfield artist Wendy Everett Cooke said she will miss the staff. "I couldn't just pop in to buy gold leaf. It would be an hour-long gab and love fest. Coming to this store was like coming home," Cooke said.
For some, making a purchase at Max's was a sign that they had "arrived" on the art scene in town. "I felt like a big deal the first time I had to come here and buy art supplies," said Theresa Zwart-Ludeman, formerly of Westport and now living in Chester.
Virginia Hamil Clark, a Westport native now living in Lyme, remembered shopping at Max's when it was a stationery store. "We came in for conversation and his greeting card. They were the best in town."
One person blamed the demise of the store on changing demographics in town. "This area was an artist community and now it's more financial," said Jenna Jolt, an artist from Stamford who will miss Max's. "This has been a part of my whole life. It's a genuine art store. They know what you're looking for, they know the materials, they can recommend other things. It was more personal," she said.
Westport artist Lloyd Nash was one of the last customers to make a purchase at the store. On Saturday he bought a heart-shaped, glass paper weight and "old drawing tools that I despair of ever finding again in an art store. I'll have to go online."
Computers and the Internet also played a role in the store's closing.
"Progress; technological progress. That's what did the store in," said photographer Jeff Simon, a former Westport resident who worked for Life magazine and in the film and television industry. He often had his photographs matted and framed at Max's.
"I imagine some of us feel bad because we hadn't patronized the store the way we used to. I don't have to buy drawing paper any more ... It's our fault that it's closed because we don't use the materials anymore. Now everything has gone on the computer," said illustrator Randy Enos, a Westport resident for 50 years who now lives in Easton.
"The computer made (hand-fashioned) things obsolete. I can't fight it anymore," said Mellor, who isn't sure what's next. Max's was her masterpiece and she admitted to feeling a bit lost without it. "It's my life, it's my identity. It's who I am. People introduce me that way," she said.
Mellor plans to donate some of the remaining supplies to the Westport Arts Center's children's programs and donate some of the professional art work she has received throughout the years to the town's Permanent Art Collection.
A one-night Pop-Up Art Show will be held in the Max's site, 68 Post Road East, on Friday from 6-9 p.m.