COLLECTING; Sherwin Williams Feed


 Rockwell Kent, The home decorator and color guide, sherwin wiliams paint, 1939

 The Home Decorator And Color Guide, Rockwell Kent,  Sherwin Williams 1939. PSAW ephemera collections

 Rockwell Kent, artist, author, adventurer, illustrator and political activist,  might have been the most famous artist hired by Sherwin Williams for their catalogs. This is arguably their most famous catalog. Printed in 1939, it is filled with lavish Rockwell Kent illustrations and prose.

"The Rockwell Kent Gallery and Collection of the Plattsburgh State Art Museum, State University of New York, contains the most complete and balanced collection of Rockwell Kent's work in the United States. The gallery, located in the Feinberg Library, and the Feinberg Library Special Collections provide an excellent overview of the art, literary merit and political beliefs of Kent, and affords an unusual resource to scholars and students of twentieth century American art and of Rockwell Kent's growth as an artist and advocate for social justice"

Kent also experimented with reverse painting under glass, some of which are at Plattsburg. Someday soon I will take the ferry across Lake Champlain and pay a visit.

 Sherwin Williams paint, the home decorator and color guide, Rockwell Kent, 1939, p
Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939. Page 1.

The copy in this entire catalog is by Kent, who, in addition to studying painting, studied architecture at Columbia University:

"Half of the lives of most of us are spent a home. And HOME is what 'the woman' makes the house we live in to be. Good architecture, good taste in decoration, may be reduced to this: A good house is a house where people can be happy."

 Rockwell Kent, sherwin williams paint, home decorator and paint guide, 1939, p
Rockwell Kent, As You Make Your Bed, Sherwin Williams 1939. PSAW ephemera collections.

"I have slept in the bed of the King Of Bulgaria and I have slept in warm reindeer skins on the hard ice of the frozen arctic sea. Tents, caves, shacks, lean-to's, barns, abandoned tenements; old wrecks of houses, brand new houses, little houses, big ones, clear up to the scale to palaces - and down again. Where it has been my right to fix such dwelling places up - if only for a transient stay - to fix them, make them be like home, I have. That's been a passion of my life. And if i were to declare which home of those I've had I've loved the most, I'd say: the one that's still unfinished"

 Rockwell kent, sherwin williams paint, home decorator and paint guide, 1939 , home before and after, huge tree,

Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939. PSAW ephemera collections

"Who of us, looking back to childhood, doesn't recall the houses that we built of chairs and tables hung about with shawls? How wonderful it was to crawl into them, close the door, and sit there all cramped up, breathing their fetid air in glamorous twilight. Our parents home was for a time in life, to us, a vast, impersonal world. We built to shut it out, and later in the larger world we were to build those refuges from the impersonal and vast which we call HOME."

 Rockwell kent, sherwin williams, home decorator and color guide, wallpapers, 1939
Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Wiliams 1939. PSAW ephemera collection

Notice the books on the shelf. They are all by Kent:

 138683283-0-m 9780819552921
9780819564092 Rockwellkentwilderness
Books by Rockwell Kent: N by E, published 1930, Salamina Published 1935, Voyaging published 1924, Wilderness Published 1920

 Rockwell kent, sherwin williams, home decorator and paint guide, 1939, wallpaper in every style, Sherwin wiliams, rockwell kent, home decorator and color guide, 1939 wall paper for every roomRockwell kent, sherwin williams, home decorator and color guide, 1939, wallpaper to every taste
  Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939, Wallpaper

 Rockwell kent, sherwin williams, 1939, home decorator and color guide, p 22, 1939 , ship masthead over doorway
Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939

"The old house farther out from town around the bay, being in no degree a mansion, was more inviting to the style of living which I thought our fifty Dollars a month might comfortably yield the five of us- a style to which, to tell the truth, we were accustomed. The house, they said, had not been lived in for fully twenty years; and through what weather and bad boys had done, I didn't question it. But it had style....I scraped and smoothed its weather beaten boards, filled them and painted them. Old lilac bushed stood around the house, their background was the bay; lilac and blue and a green hillside bright with dandelions; and the house - pure white. The doors I painted peacock green -all except one which, for the fun of it I painted pink. So far, so good.

 Rockwell kent, sherwin wiliams, ships mast head, figure head, doorway

"then one day I discovered an old ship's figure head in somebody's back - yard. It was a girl - of course- they mostly are- but quite forlorn, impoverished and unkempt. I couldn't buy her so I borrowed her. I washed and scraped and sanded her; I painted her skin an ivory white, put roses in her cheeks, made her hair and eyebrows black, penciled her eyes; I hung gold pendants from her ears and a necklace around her throat; I clothed her in splendor. Ad so that all people would love to come to our house, Iput her up over the front door from where she looked out day and night over that sea which had once been her world. Yet my bedizing her was her undoing; Years later, going upon some errand into a fashionable antique shop in New York, I saw her once again. She wore the gown, roses, jewels I had given her. She was for sale, and I was poor. She cut me dead."

 Rockwell kent sherwin williamsns woman with basket
  Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939 p. back cover fold -over

 Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, a paint primer, 1939
Rockwell Kent, Sherwin Williams, 1939


In 1981 I was invited to participate, as a graphic designer, in  Jerri Allen's  Apron Project. Jerri was founder and member of  the performance group, The Waitresses:  I decided to make a postcard as my contribution. I took a vintage Sherwin Williams paint catalog and reworked it into a poem/postcard. Here's how:

This is the original page from a 1935 Sherwin Williams Catalog: The Authentic Home Decorator

 Sherwin will 1935, vintage paint catalog, woman washing wall, woman with sponge, home 1935, pink wall
Sherwin Willams, The Authentic Home Decorator, 1935 p.15

First, Make a Copy of the Image: At the time, I was living in Schoharie County in upstate New York. Strange as it may seem today, the nearest copy machine was an hour drive away. Because I was working as a writer/designer in this beautiful but techno-barren part of the world I owned a copy machine to have at my home studio. It was a Mita 900-D. It used a roll of coated paper and loose toner, very annoying, but made fabulous and interesting copies, quite unlike what you can do now with today's desktop scan/copy/printers. It only used black toner, but the blacks were very very black. I miss it.

This is what a scan/copy looks like now from my Epson NX400. I love that I can do color scans and prints but for black and white it can't  replicate what the Mita would do:

 Sherwin will 1935 detail, woman washing wall, woman in apron, woman with sponge, pink wall

Second: chose your text, here's what I chose, you can see it in the first three parargraphs of the original page, above.:

 Sherwin williams text for poem

Next: Black (or red) out the words you don't want. In other words, edit:

 Sherwin will blackout text 

I also added a bit of extra text, not from the Sherwin Williams catalog, because I wanted to add to the atmosphere of the poem with a mythological reference. I chose this quote from Robert Graves, The Greek Myths

"Goat Skin aprons were the habitual costume of Libyan girls. Athene's garments and aegis were borrowed  by the Greeks from the Libyan women....It will have been death for a man to remove an aegis - the goat-skin chastity tunic worn by Libyan girls."

Next: Assemble. Today I'd do it in a design software. Because there was no such thing in those ancient days, I had to assemble mine with Mita copes and typeset - which I had to have done by a type house. I found a font that was as close to the original as possible. I used  letraset sheets for the background and put everything together with glue. Rubber cement. You can see that the apron is pink. I wanted a dash of color, and in those days you could get a two color print made. I'm sorry to say I can't remember what I had to to do make this ready for the printer. Probably I had to give them a second image, just of the apron color so they could make two plates. I really don't miss those days.

Next:  send it to the printer. I used Tower Press, a woman owned and operated print shop in New York City. When I say send, I mean via the Post Office. Or get in a car and drive the three hours to NYC. Today you'd make a PDF file and email it to the printer.

Et Voila!

Here is the card I made in 1981,  printed as post cards which I sold for several years in shops around the country:

 Sherwin williams apron housewife goddess
Liza Cowan, postcard, Sherwin Williams Aproned Housewife Goddess, 1981

Here's the back:

 Sherwin williams apron housewife back
Liza Cowan, Sherwin Williams Aproned Housewife Goddess postcard 1981, back

For more about blackout poems see Austin Kleon , Austin's blog and his book are well worth an in depth look. To see something about this card on his blog check here

SHERWIN WILLIAMS 1934-The New Home Decorator

Old catalogs give us a peek into the lives, homes, tastes of either real or idealized consumers. Here's a vintage Sherwin Williams Paint Catalog, and its idea of the home of the American family of 1934.

1934- The US was in The Great Depression, Oklahoma was becoming The Dust Bowl, Hitler was on the rise, Mao Tse Tung began the 6,000 mile march, nylon was invented, Donald Duck made his first appearance in a movie, Babe Ruth hit his 700th Home Run, RCA Victor released the first 33 1/3 RPM (long play) record. The average new home cost $6,000, a gallon of gas cost ten cents. What can you read into this  1934 Sherwin Williams Catalog?


Sherwin Williams, New Home Decorator, 1934, cover, women in conversation
The New Home Decorator. Sherwin Williams. Liza Cowan ephemera collections

Sherwin Williams, The New Home Decorator, 1934 Cover



Sherwin Williams, the new home decorator
Sherwin Willams, 1934, The Joys Of Colorful LivingLiza Cowan Ephemera Collections

Sherwin Williams, 1934, The Joys Of Colorful Living

"Years of Lasting Happiness can be achieved with Sherwin-Williams Quality Paint. Painting offers the most natural way in the world to escape the drabness of dingy surroundings. We can see Nature busily engaged in the selfsame process on every hand. As she hides the grimness of winter landscape with every fresh snowfall she suggests how completely dingy houses and shabby woodwork can be transformed with paint."

Metaphor? Prescription?? I love the language: dense, descriptive and flowery. Why, even the rocks and flowers are provide for our enjoyment. By the landscaper or by God, we are not told.

"No place on earth is too barren for Nature to dress in color. Some of our softest woodwork and wall colors are suggested by the desert sands, the lava grays and the sage brush. Natural earths are dug up for our siennas, umbers, browns and terra verte, From iron ore comes a wide variety of reds and purples. If fact everywhere we go we have only to look with open eyes to see how generously color is provided for our enjoyment in rocks, sand, sea and flowers."




Sherwin Williams, The Modern Dining Room, 1934
Sherwin Williams, The Modern Dining Room 1934

"Even the home of romping children can have this sunny dining room because tell-tale finger marks tell their tale only once with washable flat-Tone Walls."



 Sherwin williams the new decorator, 1934
Sherwin Williams 1934, A Homey Living Room

"You will observe that your friends will notice and comment upon your painted walls. They are quick to sense a tailor-made quality which is just as individual in decoration as it is in clothing"




Sherwin Williams, 1934, S-W velvet finish varnish woman varnish table
Sherwin Williams, velvet finish varnish 1934. Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections

Elegant, tailored, but still the housewife is the one doing the painting in this picture. There are some in the catalog where a professional is doing the work. You can tell because he is wearing painter whites, and a cap.  The Depression is hitting everyone. She is still in an apron and high heels, though.



Sherwin williams 1934 dex linoleum varnish
Sherwin Wiliams, DEX Linoleum Varnish. 1934, Liza Cowan Ephemera Collections


 Sherwin williams, 1934, more beautiful kitchens
Sherwin Williams, 1934, More Beautiful Kitchens

"The colors you like, easily kept immaculate - that's what makes a happy kitchen"



 Sherwin williams, 1934, Breakfast room, breakfast nook
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Breakfast Room, Breakfast Nook

"Here's a suggestion: Tack up a little sign over the breafast room door to read, "OUR COFFEE SHOPPE" The proceed to make it the cheeriest little corner you know how...just as if you were in dead earnest to attract particular customers to sample "the finest home cooking!"



 Sherwin williams, 1934, the living porch, recreation room, ping pong
Sherwin Williams, 1934, The Living Porch, Recreation Room

"What happens to the children's clothing when they play and tumble around on the average porch? The answer tells why mothers get gray! ...A housewife can thoroughly enjoy a porch like this because it measures up to her idea of cleanliness."

The subtext to this, and to the rec room, I think, is that in hard times, clothing must be carefully preserved, middle class household can't afford servants to do the laundry, and we take our vacations at home. Reminds me of commercials on TV now that feature people camping in their back yards, picniking in their living rooms. Hard times.


 Sherwin williams, joys of colorful living with sw enamaloid 1934
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Enameloid


"Begin your Joys of Colorful Living with S-W Enameloid. "Its fun to do such jobs as these with Enameloid because all the hard work and inconvenience have been taken out...We suggest that you look over pieces in your home, similar to those illustrated here. See if re=finishing a few pieces in your spare moments will not offer a solution to the new color scheme for the home."



 Sherwin williams 1924, well painted homes are the best evidence of a good farm
Sherwin Williams, 1934, Evidence of a good farm

"A barn like this painted in S-W Comonweath Bard Red is a mark of distinction. It is an evidence of thrift, good sound business judgment and an appreciation of the value of good appearance."


  Sherwin williams farm, framed
Jane Winfrey's great grandfather's farm, Kansasville, KS, painted for Sherwin-Williams advertising 1934


Wonder of wonders, this came in from a reader -  the great grand daughter of the farm's owner :

Gobsmacked by Commonwealth Barn Red: Jane Winfrey

I just came upon an image I've yearned to find for decades! In the 1930s Sherwin Williams featured houses that fit right into the Blandings fantasy. The houses were painted by S-W in exchange for the right to use them in advertisements. My great-grandfather's farm was the illustration for one of the ads. Family lore had it that he was very pleased with himself for having had the farm painted at no expense. My Dad spent summers there and remembered the ad in The Saturday Evening Post. But in keeping with a Kansasville, WI, no-nonsense sensibility, no one in the family held on to a copy. It might have seemed, well, too full of oneself.

In the 1950s Dad's aunt ran the farm and visits there were heaven for my cousins and me. I learned to ride on a retired Tennessee walker and have remained horse crazy all my life. The barns, the Guernseys, the enormous kitchen where our great aunt would serve meals for all the farm help - are all irrevocably of an era so far in the past it may as well be centuries.


It passed along this way.  My great-grandparents had three sons and one daughter, Maude.  When the four of them inherited the farm Maude had been married and - horrors! - gotten divorced. Since a divorced mother would have no way of supporting herself - how could she have a job if she had a child? - my grandfather and his two brothers gave her their shares of the farm so she would  "have a home and something to fall back on." 

The brothers went on to become engineers, etc. in Chicago and New York but always looked upon the farm as a perpetual guesthouse.  Two generations more or less maintained bedrooms, stored stuff in barns, generally enjoyed themselves and helped out a bit, and brought their kids to learn how it all worked. 

Maude's last survivor, her daughter-in-law, sold the farm in the 1960s.  There was no one to continue it but many of us with memories that made deep impressions, all good.


Scrolling through Liza's vintage booklet of bakelite colors and housewives in heels was so entertaining. I was completely startled to see the farm and in a flash of recognition become nine years old. I am not tall enough to throw the saddle over a horse's back so my 70 year old aunt is helping me. She would never fathom the life I would lead. The barn was probably still Sherwin Williams Commonwealth Red.