Portland Independent Art Supply Stores
If you didn’t know better, you might think that Prairie Clark, Peter Rossing, and Maria Raleigh would be in direct competition. But every month for the last two years, the three have gotten together to talk shop. Prairie is the general manager/buyer for I’ve Been Framed. Peter owns Muse Art and Design, and Maria owns Collage. The more they get together, the more they differentiate who they are and what customers each can best serve.
“It was Peter’s idea,” Prairie says of the group of three, which calls itself Portland Independent Art Supply Stores. In addition to bouncing ideas off each other, comparing opinions about art products and providing moral support, the group also offers tangible benefits. They’ve shared orders from vendors who require big minimums or helped each other out if only one of them has an account with a vendor.
A Niche for Everyone
One reason they cooperate rather than compete is that each of the stores knows itself. They don’t try to be everything to everybody. While each stocks a variety of goods, they have their own niches.
Collage focuses on quality DIY craft, including stocking scrapbooking and jewelry supplies. Customers can learn new craft skills in Collage’s classroom.
Muse focuses on the needs of higher level professional artists. This is the place to get your handmade Rublev paints or to stock up on encaustic supplies. “We’re fine art without trying to be snobby,” Peter said.
I’ve Been Framed serves students, teachers, schools, and people who love discounts. “We help people out by getting large quantities and offering good deals,” said Prairie. They also stock professional supplies, but don’t go as high-end as Muse.
The three try to keep up on what the other stores are stocking. “If I don’t have something, I’ll send a customer somewhere that has it,” said Prairie.
A Community Staple
If you ask directors of big art associations what a community needs to support the arts, they’ll likely talk about the symphony, opera, and funding for major undertakings. They might overlook something as basic and essential as the place artists shop for materials, said Peter. “Local, personable, knowledgeable small service-oriented art supply stores are part of the community art infrastructure,” he said. Independent stores offer a level of service you don’t find in the chains. If Portland were to lose these stores, “It’s like losing DNA in a gene pool. The quality will go away.”
While Portlanders are known for shopping local and valuing independent stores, the art material industry has led people to expect huge discounts, often in the form of markdowns from inflated advertised prices. Sometimes customers pick your brain for an hour and a half, then buy supplies on Amazon, Peter said. This makes it difficult for the little guys to stay in business and fulfill their role as an important resource for the artists in town.
The independent store owners are extremely passionate about which art supplies to carry, sourcing new products, and educating customers about materials. All have led presentations or workshops about art supplies and techniques. They see themselves as problem solvers, helping artists achieve their desired results with as little frustration as possible. And they pride themselves on educating employees.
“We’re art supply nerds,” said Prairie. “I read about paint pigment because it’s fascinating.”
At Muse, Peter takes out the guesswork for customers by only stocking three or four brands of each type of product. “My approach is a curated selection,” he said. He makes sure to pick items in a range of prices with clear differences between them. And if a customer wants something that’s not in stock, he’ll order it.
Cheap paint fades and peels, Prairie and Peter agree. You spend a little more, you get better results and your paintings are more enjoyable for the artist and the art buyer.
The three art supply purveyors ponder ways to further support the art community. All have generously donated to charities. For several years, Muse hosted an artist a day program. Every day for a month a different local artist would paint in the store. These paintings were then auctioned off to support Schoolhouse Supplies, which provides free supplies to students in need. Muse also hosts a monthly lecture series featuring artists talking about their work.
Collage offers classes at both its Sellwood and Alberta locations, including making resin pendants or felted gnomes. Their $5 Friday series offers opportunity to learn fun and easy crafts during an inexpensive evening out. You can also rent the Alberta classroom for your own private art party. Over the recent holiday season, Collage’s Gifts from the HeART program provided art supplies to many local children.
In the future, the Portland Independent Art Supply Stores hope to co-sponsor some art shows or events. But in the meantime, they’ll continue to inspire each other and share their passion for quality art supplies. “I’m very happy Peter wrangled us all together,” Prairie said.