Zora Sweet Pinney, renowned art materials specialist, died peacefully in her home in Los Angeles on March 2. She was 91 years old.
Zora was born in Hollywood in 1921. After attending Hollywood High School she studied voice and violin at the Juilliard School of music and for a time was a world authority on Gilbert and Sullivan. Her interest then turned to art materials and she became well-known as an educator, art conservator and international expert on artists’ brushes and materials.
With her late husband Edward, Zora opened their first gallery in January 1960. They sought out talented young artists locally and from throughout the Americas, often being the first to exhibit their works in the U.S. Zora’s love of art materials prompted the gallery to sell supplies for professional artists and conservators. ZORA’S rapidly transformed into an art supply store and a popular destination for artists, students, or anybody who wanted to learn more about art materials than they could in school. Los Angeles artists, including Ed Ruscha, Tony Berlant and Billy Al Bengston, were regular and frequent customers at the store, which opened on La Cienega Boulevard before moving to Brentwood. Zora ran the store for 28 years, spending another 20 years as a consultant in the art materials industry. She mastered and then taught just about everything that makes art: oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, surfaces, tools, and especially brushes and the conservation of art.
Zora had a particular fondness for the most important, and yet often overlooked, tool of an artist: the brush. Whether made of hair, natural or synthetic fibers, or something else, Zora knew the details and the history of the material involved and acquired an extensive collection of brushes. Her collection of over 6,000 items was donated to the National Gallery, Washington DC, in 1993 and forms the core of their Artist Material Collection. Many later donations were inspired by Zora as she continued to help solicit gifts for the collection, preserving important materials from the late 20th and early 21st centuries for the benefit of future artists and researchers.
Zora served on the board of directors of the Western Association for Art Conservation, was an active member of the Inter-Society Color Council, and wrote articles and pamphlets for the National Art Materials Trade Association to whose Hall of Fame she was inducted in 1995. She was also a vocal proponent of artists’ rights, winning precedent-setting legal battles in California in the 1960s at a time when the state was far behind others in supporting artistic freedom of expression.
Zora challenged us to move forward. She scolded us when she thought we did not see the bigger picture, and she praised us lavishly for the little things that marked accomplishment in our professional and personal lives. Her influence on artists and the art materials industry was profound. She will be missed dearly by her family, friends and everyone who knew her.
Zora is survived by two nieces, Loryn and Kimberley, and two great-nieces, Essie and Nell.
If you knew Zora then we invite you to share your story about how she touched your life and to attend an upcoming celebration of her life. For further details please visit: zorasweetpinney.wordpress.com