A Short Note on Velvet Cloth Paintings

A Velvet Cloth Painting is a painting type that has velvet (normally black) as the support. The velvet material lends a particularly dark background against which colours look bright, vibrant and lively. An ancient art technique, the Velvet Cloth Paintings became popular in the late 20th century.

Black velvet paintings are said to originate in Kashmir, the land of Velvet cloth. These paintings were originally religion-based and represented the icons of the Caucasus region whose paintings were done by Russian Orthodox priests themselves. Black Velvet Paintings were introduced to Western Europe by Marco Polo, the great sea traveller, and you can still find some of these paintings in the Vatican Museums.

These paintings went mainstream in rural America, and more often than not, have kitsch themes. Images of Jesus, Dale Earnhardt, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, dogs playing poker, Native Americans, cowboys and wolves became major themes of the paintings with bright and vivid colours that stand out to contrast the dark velvet. Even avant-garde or exotic themes alternated standard themes.

Ciudad Juárez in Mexico turned out to be a centre of velvet paintings in the 1970s. A deposed Georgia farmboy, Doyle Harden, built a large factory that churned out thousands of velvet paintings by artists working in studios. While an artist would create a particular piece of the picture, another would slide the velvet along to the next artist who would add in something else to it. Velvet paintings caught the imagination of the public in the US in the 1970s. Edgar Leetag is often referred to as the “father of American black velvet kitsch”.

There is a museum in Portland, Orego that is velvet painting exclusive – the Velveteria, active from 2005 to 2010. It was reopened for public view in 2013 in Calif, the Chinatown neighbourhood of Los Angeles.