Mulvane vends art to the masses

Automatic Art For $5 plus tax anyone can buy a piece of art from this vintage cigarette machine. It can be found in the Mulvane Art Museum.

While it may be a far cry from Rembrandt or Picasso’s methods, Washburn University’s Mulvane Art Museum has a new way for the Topeka community to collect art in the past few weeks.

Created by Clark Whittington, the Art-o-mat is a refitted cigarette machine from the 1960s that now deals in new works of art for a $5 token.

Cindi Morrison, director of the Mulvane first saw the Art-o-mat 12 years ago while visiting a museum in Baltimore, Md.

“I thought it was fun,” said Morrison. “It’s a great idea. It just seemed to be a unique way of marketing art, making it affordable enough for anybody to have original artwork and start their own collection.”

Morrison tried bringing an Art-o-mat to a museum in Pennsylvania, but the historic setting didn’t have enough space for the machine. Since coming to work at the Mulvane, Morrison has been working with Whittington to bring an Art-o-mat to Washburn for nearly a year.

“We had to go through some contractual agreements,” said Morrison. “He has a patent on it and there are certain guidelines we have to follow. That had to be approved by the university. He had to wait until he had some more machines available.”

With Art-o-mats all over the country, including the Smithsonian Museum, Morrison encourages local artists to submit their artwork at for a chance to be brought into the vending-machine’s sphere of influence.

“I thought it would be a unique way for us to support local artists by getting them involved and having them become one the artists in cellophane that Clark has put together,” said Morrison.

Sitting behind the reception desk of the Mulvane, Jan Bychinski has witnessed patrons gather tokens and lead the machine to multiple sellouts and reorders.

“People of all ages really love it, too,” said Bychinski. “We’re going to get some new pieces, which will bring people back.”

While the first item to sellout at the new Art-o-mat was wearable glass art, many other styles inhabit the machine, including earrings and the macabre.

“[One item] was a little kind of demon creature painted on a wooden block,” said Bychinski. “The kids love that one.”

Morrison also asserts that the Art-o-mat holds many potential gift items, citing a recent incident after a board meeting on Valentine’s Day.

“Obviously, they hadn’t been shopping yet,” said Morrison. “They took the opportunity to make sure they had something for their sweethearts.”