FLAX art & design, the Bay Area’s oldest and well-loved retail art supply business, has been serving the creative community since 1938. Centrally located in Oakland is our flagship store, and along San Francisco’s north side waterfront is our Fort Mason Center store. Whichever store you choose, as customers often say, FLAX is a “candy store for the creative”.
A family-owned business headed by Howard Flax, who represents the third generation along with his brother Craig and their sister Leslie Flax Abel, FLAX has a long history supporting artists and the Bay Area arts community.
HISTORY: In the Great Depression, Herman and Sylvia Flax lost virtually everything. Inspired by the success of Herman’s brother Sam in New York, who got his start selling art supplies out of the trunk of his car to vacationers in the Catskill Mountains, Herman took his family west from New Jersey and in 1938 with $100, opened a small art supply store in downtown San Francisco. Initially the family lived in the store’s backroom, but soon they rented an apartment and converted the free space into a custom framing department. Flax’s Artist Materials was born and soon rose to success, buoyed by the artists’ movement that grew during WWII. Herman’s other two brothers also established independent art supply businesses in Los Angeles and Chicago, and the Flax art supply presence spread to Phoenix, Orlando and Atlanta. In 1955, Herman passed away at an early age, and upon returning from military service, Herman and Sylvia’s youngest son Philip took over the San Francisco business alongside his brother Jerry.
The SF-based Flax brothers grew close to their customers, becoming well-known for their generous support of struggling artists and the Bay Area arts scene. Their retail store soon drew nationwide attention for its incredible breadth of products, its helpful and knowledgeable staff, and its ability to inspire creativity through inventive presentation of merchandise.
As the advent of desktop publishing forever changed the dynamics of the art supply industry in the 1980s, the company ventured into mail order to broaden its market. During this time Philip’s three children joined the company, Craig, Howard and Leslie, beginning a period of more than twenty years when the four family members would work together to grow the company.
In its 78 years, FLAX has become an icon of creative inspiration and a Bay Area institution. Staffed by artists, designers, and musicians, the stores are visited regularly by residents and tourists alike. From established professionals and serious students to weekend dabblers and hobbyists, at FLAX you can awaken your inner Picasso with tools, supplies and gifts for every artistic passion and all age levels. We invite you to come in and let your imagination soar.
~ Voted “Best of the Bay” every year since 2001 ~