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Paint-by-numbers creator Dan Robbins dies at 93

Robbins worked at paint company in Detroit

Dan Robbins (WDIV)
Dan Robbins (WDIV)

DETROIT – Dan Robbins, the creator of the world-famous paint-by-numbers concept, has died at age 93.

Robbins had lived in West Bloomfield, Mich. and was a graduate of Detroit's Cass Technical High School. He had the idea to create paint-by-numbers in 1950.

In an interview with Local 4's Roger Weber in 2013, Robbins said he never considered it art.

"I don't ever call them art. I call them the experience of picking up a brush, dipping it in paint," Robbins said.

A Robbins paint-by-numbers piece (WDIV)
A Robbins paint-by-numbers piece (WDIV)

Robbins was working at the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit on a washable paint set for kids when his boss wanted to reach more consumers and asked him to come up with something. He wanted an idea for a grown-up paint set.

At first, Robbins said, he didn't have a clue on what to do. But then he remembered something about Leonardo da Vinci giving numbered assignments to his apprentices.

The kits by Craft Master hit it big time after Macy's in New York started selling them. The company's $200,000 in annual sales jumped to $20 million thanks to paint-by-numbers.

Craft Masters paint-by-numbers kit (WDIV)
Craft Masters paint-by-numbers kit (WDIV)

Critics told Robbins it wasn't right to sell art in a package. They told him it wasn't art and he couldn't claim to sell art in a package.

"We didn't care because we were selling a ton of them," he said.

His work is honored by the Detroit Historical Museum's Gallery of Innovation. One person paid $1,600 for a likeness of Queen Elizabeth.

He died Monday in Sylvania, Ohio.

Watch the full interview from 2013 here:


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