Not so long ago, cigarette vending machines were commonly found in restaurants, hotels, and countless other dimly lit corners of civilization. But, as the fad fell from favor (cheer!), the machines quietly slipped out of sight and out of mind, lost in the smoky haze of a bygone era.
But, as trends tend to do, these vintage vendors are coming back en vogue, although not in the manner you might expect …
Instead of vending cigarettes, they’re now selling original art!
Introducing the Art-o-mat.
This cleaned-up and kitschy-creative concept is the brainchild of North Carolina artist Clark Whittington, who says that the “Pavlovian” inspiration for Art-o-mat came to him while watching a friend unwrap the crinkly cellophane from a snack. The sound triggered an immediate craving—Clark was overcome with the urge to have a snack too!
Fueled by the force of his involuntary reaction, Clark sensed that he could create a similar impulse to “snack” on art.
Gotta have it!
One urge led to another, and he ended up converting an old cigarette machine into the first Art-o-mat, which sold his own black and white photos, mounted on blocks, for $1 each.
As he had predicted, the idea was catching. He and a group of local Winston-Salem artists forged the Artists in Cellophane (AIC) group with the mission “to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.” AIC states that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable. “Art-o-mat has created an opportunity to purchase original artwork while providing exposure and promotional support for artists,” says that group.
“The experience of pulling the knob alone is quite a thrill,” says the AIC, “But you also walk away with an original work of art. What an easy way to become an art collector.”
There are now more than 50 Art-o-mat locations across the nation. Check out this map to find one near you, or peruse the online gallery of machines—they’re almost as cute as retro camp trailers!
Want to get in on the art?
Art-o-mat welcomes submissions from artists to feed its ongoing supply of small wonders, so if you’re interested in trying your hand at a playing-card-sized masterpiece, learn how to get it into a machine with these guidelines.
This is such a cool idea. According to the map, there is one of these machines in the Appleton Museum, Ocala Florida which is just 35 miles down the road from me! Looks like a little road trip one day is coming up to check it out. I love the idea of re-purposing the old cigarette machines, with all of their 1950s decor, for the $1 fee for original art. I am curious to see what you can purchase.
what a KOOL idea ( get it? like Kool Cigarettes? )
Way kool seed woman Lisa. Loved the links you sent me. Next issue of our mag is due next week and has a feature on the female farmHer photographer in the link you sent me. Great minds you know …
Have been up since early early writing my last piece for next issue, all about heirlooms. I’m starting with the basics because when we did our front cover survey a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of the thousands who commented thought we needed to go with the photo of tomatoes instead of peaches (even though they liked the peaches photo more) because it didn’t match the title line about growing heirlooms. So, plenty of people think of only ‘maters and some veggies when you say “heirloom.”
You’re welcome, Yep, great minds….amazing.
If you need any more “heirloom info” especially on Heirloom Tomatoes, which I specialize in, feel free to ask away. Best ever book on heirloom tomatoes is Amy Goldman’s ” The Heirloom Tomato-From Garden to Plate” . The art museum worthy photos of the fruits by Victor Schrager ( and his photos are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art among others ) are all taken with an antique wooden Deardorff camera. You can pick up a way discounted copy ( less than half price) on Half.com where I get all my books:
Good luck with the next issue !
I went to an art-o-mat yesterday in a neighboring town to me, so close I could have walked! Went with a friend for our first girl r&r since forever, all because of this post! Thank you! I have photos of us with the machine and the collector who shared it with us and the art I that I purchased. I posted the pic of us to your Facebook wall but not the art. Oops. Will rectify. I can email photos to you if you really want to see… Just wanted you to know, again, how much you bless me!
Love, no. 89
We’re connected at the hip. I just saw your post about 3 minutes ago, as you were typing. Yes, send pics my love.
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