TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY YOON BYUN
Last summer, the first new blue pigment discovered in 200 years became readily available to consumers through a single retailer — in Waterville. “I’ve seen new colors come out, but not like this,” says Gail Fishback, co-owner of the city’s Italian Art Store with her daughter, Rebecca Taffet. “This is not a new color that’s made up of different pigments. This is a new pigment.” Every month, the shop receives small batches of the color, known as YInMn Blue, in 40-milliliter acrylic paint tubes, and immediately sells out. “We can’t keep up with the demand,” Fishback says.
Named for its yttrium, indium, and manganese chemical components, YInMn (pronounced “yin-min”) looks like a cross between ultramarine and cobalt, but brighter. Created by accident in 2009 by University of Oregon researchers experimenting with rare-earth minerals, its road to Waterville was winding. In 2017, patent holder Shepherd Color, of Ohio, granted the Australian owner of Matisse paints the world’s first license to manufacture YInMn, which Matisse renamed “Oregon Blue.” (Other manufacturers, like Golden, offer YInMn as a custom paint.) Matisse’s North American distributor, Armadillo Art & Craft, of New Jersey, then picked longtime client the Italian Art Store as its retailer. Because YInMn is only available in limited quantities (on account of it being costly and time consuming to make), Armadillo needed a small-business partner that wouldn’t demand high minimums, president Steve Lynton says. The Waterville shop also caters to successful professional artists — “people, in our view, who would be most likely to open a tube of this color, which is expensive.”
ABOVE Every month, Gail Fishback (left) and Rebecca Taffet (right), of Waterville’s Italian Art Store, receive small shipments of YInMn Blue paint, a color so precious, they’ve never dared to open a tube.
He’s not kidding. YInMn costs an “unheard of” $179 per tiny tube, 10 times more than the Italian Art Store’s next-priciest acrylics, Fishback says. For this reason, its only conceivable application in homes is on small accent pieces where its singular “true blue” might — might — justify the price tag. Patent holder Shepherd Color is also looking into using the pigment as a metal-roof coating, claiming that a thin industrial application of the highly reflective paint could cool interiors by upwards of 10 degrees. “I don’t know of any commercial plans yet to bring it out,” Shepherd’s director of marketing, Mark Ryan, says. “But stay tuned.”
In the meantime, YInMn remains an art world celebrity. At the Italian Art Store, demand for the paint is so high, Fishback and Taffet have never opened a tube to see the famous hue for themselves. “It drives us crazy — we always test products,” Fishback says. “But, no, with YInMn, we don’t touch it. It’s too precious.”