• Michael Skalka

Magni Nominis Umbra

Updated: Feb 25

Given what has happened in Rome in recent weeks (Editor's Note: April 2, 2005, the death of pope John Paul II), I though it would be appropriate to give this Sybtax of Color a Latin title. Magni Nominis Umbra, is translated as “ in the shadow of a great name.” This fits so wonderfully with today’s theme and the events surrounding a recent trip to Chicago. The essay writing took a bit of a holiday last week to go to the Windy City. Every year the art materials industry comes together for an annual meeting to educate its members, provide a showcase for sales, displaying products and to renew old relationships among members who span the world. The organization that coordinates this annual meeting as well as year-round support of the industry is called the National Art Materials Trade Association. (NAMTA)



If art materials manufacturers existed as a trade group a few thousand years ago, they would have gathered around fires and told stories of places where bright colored earths could be found and how to avoid being mauled by saber-toothed tigers when digging for red ochre. Today, NAMTA meetings are not so grueling or rugged. Most convention centers frown upon open campfires so the information exchange and bonding experiences usually takes place in a vendor’s booth or later in the evening around a flame of a candle in convention hotel’s bar. Not quite the campfire setting, but you get the idea.

For those who love art materials, attending NAMTA is akin to dying and going to a heaven that is a giant art materials store covering several acres. Rows and rows of vendors display fully stocked shelves and racks filled with products. Items you have seen only in magazines or catalogues are proudly stacked and gleam under the glow of spotlights. Literally, everything made for artists appears for several days under one roof. The bad news is that none of these wonderful supplies are for sale. The good is that none of these wonderful supplies are for sale. I would not have enough shopping bags and suitcases available to haul away the mass of things that I would want to buy at a NAMTA show.

I think we take it for granted that when we go to an art materials store, that the shelves contain so many varieties of products to select. All those art materials come from somewhere. Dedicated chemists, managers, marketing managers, artists, and entrepreneurs create a team that delivers these products to market. Companies with over 150 years of experience, some with 30 and others with only 5 all work hard to satisfy the creative drive of artists. When talking to the many talented people in the art materials industry, one is amazed at the knowledge and experience that exists in the field. Making paint and bringing it to market is hard work. Products are carefully formulated based on the skills and experience of the manufacturer. We take much of this for granted when we open a tube of paint, not knowing the effort involved in research, development, and testing that goes into the creation of each product offered to artists. It is not only the vision of the artist, but the manufacturer as well, that creates a healthy marketplace.

When we walk down the broad aisles of a NAMTA convention or the narrow aisles of our local art supply store, we tread unaware of the vast amount of creativity, ingenuity and willingness to bear the monetary risk to develop and market products. Of course, manufacturers gain financially as one would expect in a free enterprise system. We complain at the high cost of art materials all the time. Unfortunately, raw materials, packaging and labor are costly. Testing and labeling for safety standards adds to the price of each item. However, we would be hard pressed to attempt to make a jar of acrylic gloss medium, fabricate a colored pencil, formulate ink or craft a beautiful sheet of 300 lb. cold pressed paper by ourselves. Our time is better spent making art rather than making art materials. So as we enjoy the wonderful tools and supplies remember Magni Nominis Umbra, we are “standing in the shadow of a great name” and enjoy the fruits of their labors.


The Syntax of Color

Original Grammar of Color Essay

Vol: 1 No.9 (Published 04-22-05)

(Edited 2017)

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