Monday, December 23, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Daniel Smith Cuts A Swath On Art Scene

Seattle Times Art Critic

Every artist in town knows Daniel Smith. It's the granddaddy of Seattle's art supply stores. It's a big, rambling, home-grown, south-of-the-Kingdome place where artists act like kids at FAO Schwarz. They want everything in sight. The tubes of cobalt blue oil paint, the sable brushes, the gold leaf.

Daniel Smith is as integral a part of the local art scene as REI and Starbucks are to the region's broader personality. Sure, there are plenty of art supply stores in town, but Daniel Smith is an institution. Founded 23 years ago by an artist named Daniel Smith, a large number of the area's artists also have found employment there over the years. An art show of work by current and former employees would be pretty impressive.

Now, for the second year in a row, the store's catalog has won the first-place award for excellence in an annual competition sponsored by "Catalog Age," a trade magazine. It may seem like a no-brainer for an art-supply company to sweep first place in the competition's Graphics & Art Supplies division, but apparently a lot of art-supply houses don't put out a well-designed catalog. There was no second place given for lack of any decent runner-up.

Judges commended the Daniel Smith catalog for being simple, "beautifully designed" and customer friendly. First-place award winners in other categories were catalogs by Patagonia and Gump's - classy company.

Daniel Smith does 75 percent of its annual business, which in 1995 hit $11 million in sales, by catalog. Artists from all over the country order the company's custom line of paints and inks, all made on the store's site at 4150 First Ave. S. When out-of-the-area catalog customers visit Seattle, they make pilgrimages to the store. (Much to the confusion of cab drivers, who can't imagine what tourist sites exist in deep SoDo, the neighborhood south of the dome.)

Here in Seattle we all know what a great business Daniel Smith is, and how important it is to the art scene. Besides selling supplies, the store sponsors on-site art workshops and throws itself into community events. But it's nice to see the company getting a little pat on the back from elsewhere.


If you're planning to go gallery hopping over the next week or two as an antidote to too much eggnog and revelry, check gallery hours first. Many are closing the entire Christmas week and some are remaining closed until Jan. 2.

The Seattle Art Museum, on the other hand, will have regular hours except on Christmas and New Year's Day, when it will be closed. SAM's lively design and decorative arts show, "Design 1885-1945, The Arts of Persuasion and Reform," is up through Jan. 12 and worth seeing. At the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a show not to miss is the lovely "Abstraction and Expression in Chinese Calligraphy," a remarkable traveling show of mostly 15th- and 16th-century calligraphy.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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