in bed… at… the Golden residency! (I wish)

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You didn’t know you really wanted one of these beautiful, curiously shaped red North American barn did you? But you do! Give it a minute’s thought… can’t you just picture your studio (huge of course) under the eaves there, while below smaller and cosier rooms would open onto the grass, the myriad wildflowers in summer,the white snowy slopes in winter while the fireplace in your back is roaring… Right! You want one of these. We all do.


Well, if you are a good enough girl (or boy) you might just be one of those lucky three selected to live and work in one for a whole month. And yes, on the ground floor you will get the loveliest bedroom, community kitchen and lounge with wooden furniture, all appliances useful to an artist (you know large comfy armchairs, art books to browse, vases full of sunflowers) but of course the real treat is… up there! Where a large open studio awaits you, fitted with tools and tables and easels and… down the corridor… a sort of stockroom with the entire range of Golden paints on its shelves. Yours for the taking of course! Are you awake? or is this some sort of dream from which you will wake up the ever struggling artist?

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But these goodies don’t come alone. Behind the shelf (perhaps even inside the jar or the tube he’s been around that long) you will find Jim Hayes who has been for almost 30 years director of the Golden Artist Colors lab… nearly as long as the company has existed. His job is not only to head the team that creates all the formulas of their ever growing product lines, he also does custom work for artists. This is the only place in the world I believe where this is an option and, when you are chosen for a residency, it’s usually because you are a very special artist. I don’t mean by that an AAAmazing one but an interesting one. You want to play with acrylics…. you want to stretch their possibilities… you want this AND you want just the opposite of this…. on the same canvas of course. Maybe the paint you want doesn’t even exist but, if it’s an option, Jim’s your man… Or Ulysses Jackson, which I met too, and is one of the lab specialists who works under Jim. He’s been here over a decade and has worked in the lab since he started. He is an accomplished artist also and has a few answers up his sleeves.

Jim Hayes, “one of the most talented chemist there is” according to Marking Golden

But why would these guys get paid to do this? In short, for you. For the artists at the residence this month or for you in Papua New Guinea if this is where you’re painting and having an issue with a paint glossy enough but drying too fast. And they are doing it because that’s how, since the very beginning of this company, they have found out how to make a better paint and make artists happy to use acrylics along the way. It’s probably impossible to understand the level of integrity and research done here if one doesn’t back track a bit to the earlier years.

Yes it all began with oil paint, apparently from a suggestion by artist Emil Ganso to young artists Leonard Bogdanoff and school friend, Irwin Lefcourt that “nobody could go into a surer thing… If you don’t sell it, we can always use it!” Using Max Doerner’s “recipes”, the two began making hand-ground oil paints under the name of Lefcourt, which to them sounded very French (and respectable I suppose!)  They then combined their names and created Bocour, Inc. a name Leonard would legally change to in 1951. From the onset it was about making paint for friends, for artists they knew. The shop was a meeting place for artists and its small premises often held card games, mounds of pastrami sandwiches and life drawing. “Making something for friends, you want to do it the right way” Mark Golden emphasizes because “feedback… you will get!” He still remembers obviously an artist friend telling him: “Mark, your paint stinks!” That was in the early days of the Golden company and yes rotten acrylics smell like rotten eggs, which forced Sam Golden to rethink his formula and add enough preservatives so that the paint would be immune to a bacteria attack… bacteria thrive in water you see.

A life drawing session at Bocour

But I’m jumping the gun a bit… Bocour survived the war, the leaner years with virtually no materials and no one playing with them and -now you know you are never allowed to laugh at them again- thanks to the new “Paint-by-Number” craze that hit the country early in the 50’s! By then Leonard’s cousin, Sam Golden, was fully on board as a paint maker and he devised this oil paint based on castor oil that would stay wet in very small plastic pots. And this minor achievement (produced by the tens of thousands of little pots per day) finally allowed Leonard and Sam to buy real mixing and milling equipment for the factory. It also came after nearly ten years of experiments and practice in paint making as Bocour had added by then additional ranges of colors including watercolours, casein and eventually, the world’s first artist acrylic paint, Magna® in 1947. Slowly but surely, they began to sell to more retail stores and not just directly to artists. DSC00784

Sam Golden, the founder of Golden Artist Colors, would for the rest of his partnership with Leonard be the inside man, the developer of paints and Leonard, the raconteur and consummate sales man, the voice of Bocour. In 1960, Sam developed a waterborne acrylic paint they named “Aquatec”. Permanent Pigments had made their first water-based acrylic in 1954 so they were not the first on the market…. however there can’t have been too many recipes available because their first batch hardened up within 3 months and they had to buy it all back! A year later, the product was more stable… trial and error, trial and error…

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After thirty five years as a paint maker, Sam retired from his partnership in 1972 to a gentleman’s farmer life with his wife Adele in up state New York… I don’t know what the other siblings though of the idea but it’s obvious that Mark had already found out that weekends up in New Berlin could be slightly on the boring side… and soon enough Sam found that out too. So at the grand age of 67, encouraged by his wife who decided that sinking all their savings, their Florida house, their treasured paintings in the adventure was a better idea than seeing her beloved go unhappy, Sam was back at the mill… Golden Artist colors was born and Mark, one of their sons, traded his job managing a restaurant, for pedaling paints to their New York artist friends. His slogan was: “If you like the paint, give me the name of your artistic buddies. If you don’t, tell me why and I’ll bring you something else to try next week.” Sam and Adele were beaming with delight and Mark was freaking out in proportion to the bills mounting and profitless years passing.

Sam was not a trained chemist, but a perpetual tinkerer and, as always, encouraged and followed the leads given by all that feedback. However, the time came to employ their first chemist (“acrylics need a lab” you see) and gradually, with the input of Jim (who nearly turned around when he came for the interview and discovered it was going to happen in a…. cow barn! Good thing he didn’t!!), the quality of the paint increased, the ranges of mediums too. Adele passed away in 1988, but saw the fledgling company to its early years of profitability from which it has never looked back.  Sam continued to work at the company until he was 80, then turned around his career to become… a painter! And that’s what he did every single day until his death two years later…

Soon after, in 1997, the Golden Family created The Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts. To celebrate the legacy of that passionate couple and as a way to repay the many artists and friends that supported them and their young company. The foundation runs the residency program and the gallery on the Golden premises.

Barbara Golden in front of some “help yourself goodies” at the residency

The delightful Barbara Golden, wife of Mark, who has also furnished the “barn” as everyone affectionately calls it with her own antique pieces (and I’m sure is the one behind the flowers in the vases) manages with kindness, elegance and dedication the residency program which serves mainly that same ongoing purpose…. creating in depth dialogues with artists with interesting issues. The in-house gallery in a way does the same thing but at another level. Promoting and thanking artists for sharing while giving all the Golden crew a renewed and true excitement in their products, an experience you only get when you see how someone has eventually used all those gallons of paint you make! 2016 will see 5 years of the residency (6 x 3 artists each year) and their 4th annual Made In Paint exhibition featuring artworks from all the artists who were selected to attend the Program in 2015.

Mark Golden in front of the largest triple mill I have ever seen!

Just for fun I will share what the artists were working on the day I visited… Marie-Dolma Chope was wanting to switch to acrylics and wanted support in doing that… easy.


Lori Larusso (here with Barbara) wanted to achieve artworks part mega glossy, part ultra mat, hum more complex especially that her works were on shaped panels.


Eugenia Pardue was simply painting wedding cakes as far as I could tell… with the most extravagantly thick paint i have ever seen and somehow her process was truly yummy!

I don’t really know who joined when in the last 30 years since its inception but they are now a splendid team of 166 and among the most dedicated people I have met in the paint making world. They delight in their job as much as you in your job as an artist. They do the right thing by the environment too: filtering all their water five times, recycling it over and over to clean the machines… even the waste water produced by the three residents is pumped back to the plant to undergo the same process.  And you’ve got to love that!

The barn is like a mini Beaubourg inside, pipes and wires are visible everywhere… a great look! I believe those control the flow back of waste water to the plant.

So, you want to go there? Right? And perhaps you might… apply and try your luck.

However most of you will probably never make it to New Berlin and the impressive Golden plant cum residency cum gallery BUT there is still the incredibly informative newsletter Just Paint they publish (you can subscribe and receive it online) which will give you answers to questions you never even knew you had (really interesting though). And, if you are more into seeing the products perform, there are videos galore available which you can access via the Golden website or on YouTube and, if still in doubt, there is always the phone or the email to get practical answers to your more personal concerns… you don’t have to be a conservator at the MET or an art restorer or even a zoo keeper who wants to devise a palette of pinks for his painting elephant (these guys do call too) just a normal artist with a simple question will be just fine. Your request will be dealt with by any of the 6 + persons who have been trained for over a year before they were even allowed to answer the phone! Or even, if it’s a real hard one I presume, by Sarah Sands head of the material specialists team (and author extraordinaire of some of articles in the Golden newsletter Just paint). All these highly trained persons answer over the phone thousands of  questions a year (+ around 14000 emails!) about how to use the products, explain what the many products do and also advise artists unsure of the process they’re using for whatever their project is and… THEY ARE ALL ARTISTS!

Some draw downs bars in the plant

(Even if you are using another brand or mixing some with a Golden product, these amazing guys are there for you… They are not there to make a sale, simply to improve your experience, try to solve your problems… and gain some knowledge themselves too along the way. They won’t blink if you add that you were trying to varnish that painting in the tropics on a 100% humidity day or in the North Pole on a freezing one. Trial and error is accepted, S**T happens and they are certainly not there to blame your practice or make excuses for their product but to begin one more conversation, find out a way to make acrylics and your crazy idea work for you! Sarah’s one prerequisite when she made the move to New Berlin was… “I’ll do this job IF I get the assurance I will never have to lie. And she did and she didn’t! And we’re all the richer for it… )

Have I forgotten anything? Yes! Golden, under the helm of artist Patti Brady runs a Certified Instructors program for a few (happy few) practicing artists who become Golden Educators. These complete a four day intensive training focused on acrylic techniques and offer workshops in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Canada, Brazil, Chile, Barbados, USA, Northern and Southern Europe… go to the website for more info. And for artists really dedicated there is also a Golden Certified Working Artists training. At the end of a six month intensive on all technical aspects of acrylic and archival painting practices, these artists are contracted to conduct lectures on Golden’s Acrylic products.

All in all, in one way or another, you should get the info you are after…

An ‘artist impression’ of the ever colourful Patti Brady

Have I forgotten something else? Well most probably, they have branched out in so many ways but time has come to end my raving with what Mark says to every new employee, there are two bottom lines: how much money you’ve made, how many thank yous you’ve received that year… at Golden we are very clear which one we care most about… and that makes all the difference!

PS: In a few weeks I will publish Part 2 of my visit to Golden and we will dive with Jim, Ulysses and Sarah into the products they make: acrylics of course but also the most recent additions of Willamsburg oils and Qor their… acrylic watercolour! For now I simply wanted to honor the company for what it is, i.e. probably the most ethical, supportive company of artist materials with an integrity unmatched anyway in the world (and nobody’s paid me to write this, I paid my B&B, air fare, rental car to get there but left feeling totally honored for the time all these highly competent human beings gave me -a simple, happy blogger and store owner trying to inform herself and pass it on!) AND because in this world of profit it’s a Rare and Wonderful thing they are doing. Truly.

In the mood to read some more about Golden and their products, go to my post in bed with 166 Golden owners

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Edith Ferns says:

    Thank you so much for another one of your wonderful stories from the art world. Always an adventure to discover. Edith F. xxx

    From: in bed with mona lisa Reply-To: in bed with mona lisa Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2016 08:40:41 +0000 To: “Edith Ferns (E-mail)” Subject: [New post] in bedŠ atŠ the Golden residency! (I wish)

    stillatthecentre posted: ” You didn’t know you really wanted one of these beautiful, curiously shaped red North American barn did you? But you do! Give it a minute’s thought… can’t you just picture your studio (huge of course) under the eves there, while below smaller and cosie”

    1. Thank YOU for always be so curious and interested!

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