Rejecting Disposability

Some painting literature promoted disposable supplies, but many home-improvement authors discouraged using cheap, throwaway options. “This is not the occasion to yield to the lure of disposable” roller covers, suggested a Consumer Reports article in 1967. “Our paint consultants’ experience has shown that they give relatively poor results,” the report continued. One appalled columnist revealed to the Popular Science audience how “some dealers display—even promote—throwaway rollers. You can pay as little as 75 cents for two rayon rollers in an unmarked plastic bag… But they won’t paint.” The author distrusted low-cost options and the retailers who convinced consumers to buy them.

An assortment of cardboard-core roller covers in a contemporary painting store in Newark, Delaware. Photograph. 2014. By author.

An assortment of cardboard-core roller covers in a contemporary painting store in Newark, Delaware. Photograph, 2014. By author.

In 1974, a New York Times columnist urged readers to avoid “ ‘bargain’ priced and low quality covers,” as they painted surfaces inconsistently and shed fibers. Reviewers targeted the inexpensive, rudely made disposable roller cover, not foam brushes and pads. While many amateur jobs might merit trying a cheap polyurethane applicator, few jobs deserved a throwaway roller. As one DIY author suggested, “scrimping on rollers is… a penny-wise, pound-foolish philosophy.” Only when applying oil paints, which prove rather tricky to clean, or destructive chemicals like epoxy resin, might a consumer consider rolling with a disposable model.

Popular home-improvement advice articles and books cast doubt on throwaway painting supplies not for their disposability, but instead for their real or perceived inability to perform. My grandfather and other traditional professionals, however, rejected throwaway tools both for their lower quality and for their inherent wastefulness. Though he probably gave little thought to the environmental implications of disposability, my grandfather and members of his generation understood the value of investing in tools for the long term.

Richard Wilkens painting a cousin's house in Bowling Green, Ohio. Throughout his life as a painter, he always chose and cared for durable, long-lasting supplies. Photograph. Ca. 1986. The Wilkens Family Collection.

Richard Wilkens painting a cousin’s house in Bowling Green, Ohio. Throughout his life as a painter, he always chose and cared for durable, long-lasting supplies. Photograph, ca. 1986. The Wilkens Family Collection.

 

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