These vending machines dispense art, not snacks

  • By Amy Daybert Herald writer
  • Tuesday, April 24, 2012 7:33pm

Diane Macrae stepped up to the vintage cigarette machine in her Seattle art boutique recently, dropped a gold coin into a slot and waited to hear it clink against the inside of the steel machine.

Macrae pulled on one of the machine’s 22 gold knobs and a box the size of a cigarette pack fell out. She opened it and revealed a vibrantly colored wax painting glued to a small block of wood.

Macrae turned to John Vandebrooke, an Edmonds artist who created the piece of artwork.

“This is really cool,” Macrae said. “It looks like a cityscape. Do you remember doing this one?”

Vandebrooke, 72, who has created wax paintings for the past nine years, didn’t exactly remember when he created the original piece. He’s submitted his miniature wax paintings for the last three years to sell in Art-o-mat machines located across the United States and other countries.

“The way I talk myself into doing it is I put my business card on the back of the block and it’s a way of self-promotion,” Vandebrooke said.

North Carolina artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-o-mat machine in June 1997 and sold his work in it at an art show. Around 400 artists from 10 different countries now sell their work in the machines. A list of where to find Art-o-mat machines is at

The Art-o-mat at Venue Ballard at 5408 22nd Ave. NW is the only one in the state, Macrae said. It has been at the store since July 2008 and was popular with customers from the very beginning. It’s even addicting for some shoppers.

Artwork in the machines typically sells for $5 apiece and artists receive $2.50 per sale. Vandebrooke said he isn’t able to choose where his art is sold but he does get to know where his paintings end up going.

He tries to learn who’s pulling the knobs on the machines with his art by including a slip of paper along with his paintings.

“I always put a little note saying ‘Who purchased me? Let me know and learn about wax painting,’” he said. “I get people ordering my stuff from all around the country but I don’t know if it came from this or not. It could have.”

Using the machine is easy. A customer pays $5 and receives a gold coin in return. Then they get to choose the type of artwork they’d like to buy. Placards that decades ago displayed cigarette brands instead show pictures of the art type, the artist’s name and where they are from.

“You could get a finger puppet or photography or a little doll or some jewelry,” Macrae said. “You still get the little element of surprise because you don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like but you get a feel for what type of art it’s going to be.”

Vandebrooke said he enjoys promoting his style of art and plans to continue sharing his work through the Art-o-mat machines. He likes finding out where his artwork is being sold. A machine in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., is stocked with his paintings, Vandebrooke added.

“So I say my art is hanging in the Smithsonian,” he said.

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