Art supplies manufacturer Jack Richeson & Co. is now a nationwide name among art retailers, but when it started as a small-scale downtown Appleton paintbrush seller in 1982, it was much like any other local store in the Fox Cities, selling high-quality products to the community. Three decades later, now based in Kimberly, the company has grown to become the largest easel manufacturer in the U.S., has added a 25,000-square-foot gallery to sell and showcase art from around the world and offers art classes and workshops.
In the company’s advent, Jack Richeson & Co. President Darren Richeson didn’t realize the role in the arts community it would grow to today, but for a company that works hard to carry out its goals, he says, growth is viable.
“It started out with me and my dad on State Street,” Richeson says, “and you think, ‘How do I earn a living?’ But if you’re passionate about something, [you can] grow to something substantial.”
But Richeson Store Manager and Gallery Director Shannon Piette says Richeson’s larger scale hasn’t stopped its goal of supporting its communities, and the company’s original local values still resonate in its business practices today.
The center of Richeson’s operations is the factory, which produces easels, paint, paper and canvas supplies as well as equipment like brushes. Piette says much of the equipment is reused from other manufacturing areas. For instance, a machine that now fills tubes with paint was once used for toothpaste.
Richeson commits to always filling the paint in small batches to maintain quality control, and once that’s ready, factory workers affix labels to the paint tubes by hand. While processes like these might be mechanized by other large-scale manufacturers, Piette says Richeson & Co. prefers human help wherever possible, employing about 70 community members, more than would be possible with machine-based automation.
“We like to employ people,” Piette says. “We like to support the community and make sure they have jobs.”
But paint is just one product Richeson hires workers for — hand-spiraling sketchpads and making easels is also part of the job description.
“We do a lot by hand,” Piette says. “All our easels are made by hand. Every one.”
Another component of Richeson & Co. is their art gallery, attached to the warehouse space in 2004. It features more than 535 pieces for viewing. Most of which — except for the Richeson-curated permanent section — is for sale.
The gallery is a meeting place for a number of Richeson-offered art classes and workshops, as well as the Richeston75 art competition, which brings in artists on an international scale.
“[Submissions] get shipped across the world, and awards are given on site,” Piette says.
Each competition has a different theme for artists to contribute to, with the top 75 works displayed on exhibit. This year, artists are painting small works for the February-April exhibit; landscape, seascape and architecture paintings for the June-August exhibit; and figures and portraits for the October-December exhibit.
Not only does this allow the community to view and appreciate art from around the world, Piette says, but this also introduces Richeson75 artists to the Fox Cities.
“They go to art shows, and they find out about the area,” Piette says. “They know about the gallery because of the Richeson75 competition.”
Although the Richeson75 is internationally recognized, Piette says the gallery is also a place where local artists can get their work shown as well.
“We try to have specialize exhibits where local artists can get their work on display,” Piette says.
Aside from the gallery’s exhibits, Richeson also offers short-term art classes for artists of all skill levels. The courses are taught by seasoned artists and, occasionally, nationally known artists are invited to teach workshops. Piette says this cultivates community interest in the arts and gets the Richeson name out.
“We do a lot of community outreach,” Piette says. “We’ve invited teachers to work with [developing artists] — that does inspire students to continue down a creative role.”
Piette says courses at Richeson are a way to develop as an artist and even gain opportunities in art.
“This is a facility you can start in,” Piette says. “I’ve had artists who have started out by taking classes who are now teaching.”
Whether new at art or advanced, Piette says it’s a good idea for anyone interested in art to continue taking classes to hone their craft.
“Artists continuously evolve, and you do that by learning from each other,” Piette say.