Rick Smith — a Calgary collector who boasts one the largest collections of velvet paintings in North America — gave more than 200 works of art to the Glenbow Museum on Friday.

Smith's donated collection was the focal point of a fundraiser for the museum, and every person who attended got to take their very own velvet treasure home to keep.

But will the paintings' new owners appreciate them as Smith once did?

Velvet paintings have been around since the turn of the 20th century and have adorned walls in homes around the world.

So what about these black velvet oddities have made them so accessible for so long?

Black velvet art

Black velvet art was once sold by the roadside in southern California in the 1970s. Sellers would display them on a chain link fence. (velveteria.com)

"People do hate them," velvet art historian Caren Anderson told The Homestretch this week.

"They hate them but they can't stop looking, it's that type of thing."

Anderson runs the Velveteria, a museum dedicated to velvet paintings, in Los Angeles with her partner Carl Baldwin.

"It's one of those types of paintings where you just can't look away. There is something very compelling about them, they just catch your eye, kind of like a deer in the headlights," she said.

Velveteria The Museum of Velvet Paintings

Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin run Velveteria, a museum dedicated to velvet paintings, in Los Angeles. (velveteria.com)

Anderson says velvet art, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century, has endured because it has an appeal beyond traditional art appreciation circles.

"I always refer to them as 'art for the people' because most people can afford to have one if they want," she said with a laugh.

The sometimes sofa-sized paintings have a history that goes back more than a century.

"Velvet paintings themselves, we have some from Japan from the turn of the 20th century, not on black velvet," Anderson said.

Anderson says in 1930s Chicago and other cities, artists were making pastoral scenes and selling them in cheaper department stores. In the 1950s, artists were painting them in Mexico and the Philippines. But the 1960s and 1970s are really when they got big.

"After the Second World War they got popular in tiki bars. Edgar Leeteg, the more famous velvet painter, was an American who moved to Tahiti. He was discovered and his paintings were put in a lot of these restaurants and bars," Anderson said.

"In the 1960s, that's when a lot of the paintings were made in Mexico of rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and The Doors. They used to sell them in the 1970s by the roadside in southern California. They would put them up on a chain link fence."

Anderson says her museum, which has thousands of paintings, has been the catalyst for some interesting conversations.

"The people that painted them were very interesting, the people that collected them were probably more interesting."


With files from The Homestretch