New art supply store opens Friday in Marfa

The new store is located in the alleyway behind Tumbleweed Laundry on Austin Street. Photo courtesy of Julie Sweterlitsch.

MARFA — For years, Marfa has been an art town without art supplies. But starting tomorrow, July 3, Marfa Art Supply will be here to supply art accoutrements for art professionals, novices and children alike.

The origin story of launching an art supply store in a small town during a pandemic could only be a unique one. Haydn and Julie Sweterlitsch loaded up their belongings into a trailer this February, destined for Dallas, where Haydn had accepted a new job in advertising. They sold their house in South Florida and hit the road with their nine-year-old daughter Frances.

By the time they reached Georgia, “Everything just kind of exploded and that Dallas job was no longer a job,” Julie said. “We were like, ‘Now what?’”

They hunkered down in Waco, and with a lot of time on their hands, made a plan. “In advertising, COVID has made remote working more acceptable and normalized it,” Julie explained. It left them open to living wherever they pleased, and they soon landed on two decisions: moving to Marfa and opening an art supply store.

“There’s nothing worse than sitting around with nothing to do,” Julie said of her time figuring things out in Waco. Herself an artist, she began ordering supplies online during her coronavirus down time. “I think a lot of people are going to be doing things like art in this time. You need something to do with yourself.”

With the store, she hopes to offer just that. “I’m trying to be a legit art supply store with real art supplies, both with the novice painter and the professional artists here too,” she said. “We have some kids’ stuff, because the kids need something to do.”

“Frankly, we were surprised there wasn’t an art supply store in a city that revolves around art,” Haydn added. “The way business and retail has gone online and you can order anything in the world, in the grand sense it doesn’t make sense to open a brick and mortar of anything. But Marfa is a unique situation with unique people. Why not open an art supply store?”

The store already boasts a wide variety of mediums and papers, including Williamsburg oils, Golden acrylics, Daniel Smith watercolors, POSCA pens, Beam paints and “a ton of papers for all different mediums,” Julie described, hoping to be “a mile wide and an inch deep,” with their offerings.

It was a photo of the Williamsburg oils, shared on the store’s Instagram page, that caught local artist Diana Simard’s eye and led her to comment “Is this for real?”

In an interview this week, Simard, who has lived in Marfa since 2012, fondly recalled Solids, a trailer at Airstreamland from years back that had “limited art supplies.” Since its closure though, Simard, a professional painter, has relied on catalogs and online ordering to get access to the supplies she uses in her work.

“When I lived near an art supply store, I had almost a problem because it’s so fun, there’s so much stuff. Like, ‘Maybe I need these markers,’ and end up like an art supply junkie, because everything looks so good at the store.” While Simard says she’s been able to curb her art supply addiction some since moving to Marfa, she wondered if that inability to expand to other supplies and mediums has kept her from being adventurous.

Though brick and mortar stores might face challenges coming up against the era of online ordering, there are certain advantages too. “There’s so many things I prefer to get in person like paper, paint brushes. You see a picture, but you want to know the texture and feel,” Simard said. The artist gingerly admitted that she’s the type to open the paint caps to get a good look at the real paint’s pigment, which never really comes through in online images or catalogs.

“I end up ordering things, getting them and, ‘Oh, it’s really not right.’ It’s a pain in the butt to return things, so I have a lot of supplies that I’ve ordered.” The artist hoped the store would order supplies upon request, and fortunately, Julie was on the same page.

Julie says the store will take requests from the town on what they’d like to see the store carry, saying, “We’re happy to accommodate and grow it into something everybody likes.”

The store, located in the alleyway behind Tumbleweed Laundry, will require masks, limit visitors to three at a time and open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.