Wine drinkers are known for their discerning palates, but art aficionados have their own ways to separate the extraordinary from the satisfactory.

Take Art Authority's latest business line: boxed note cards bearing art reproductions.

In the Ashland company's production office on Mistletoe Road, Mac Holbert slaps down a box of note cards depicting a work by artist Mark Rothko sold at a New Mexico museum. Then he places one of Art Authority's own note card reproductions next to it. In a taste test, a wine expert would toss the Southwest museum's entry over his shoulder. The difference in paper quality is evident; the color is vibrant versus bland, using 200-year archival ink.

 

"As art people, it's our responsibility to reproduce something that really represents the artist's original vision," Holbert said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people look at the bottom line and don't look at the actual quality of the object itself. We're helping by creating a better quality card. It will catch some people and will change people's idea of what a note card should be."

Timed for holiday online shopping, Art Authority's virtual museum has a new counterpart: The 1000 Museums Gift Shop. Just as you can expect to pay more for a memorable vintage, a dozen note cards from Art Authority will set you back $25, not really over the top.

"It's intended for people looking to give somebody the gift of art, including note cards," Stanley Smith said. "That has been a subset of our entire collection, ones that sold the most and make really good gifts. We work directly with the museums. They have the originals and do a high-end capture of the originals, and we get those files directly from them. So we're as close to the original as you can get. A lot of people who make prints and cards download the images from who knows where, they scrape the Internet, but we get them directly from the source."

Art Authority has 50,000 to 60,000 licensed images, Smith said. Customers on the 1000Museums.com website browse through 20,000 images, order online, and usually receive their orders in three days.

"We work with a lot of institutions," he said. "We have a very complicated royalty structure."

Sometimes royalties go directly to the museum, sometimes to an artist's estate, and directly to the artists if they are alive, Smith said.

In addition to its retail sales, Art Authority handles wholesale print production for museum gift shops. Smith estimates the firm's 10 printing machines will kick out 10,000 prints a month during November and December.

There have been a few obstacles since Art Authority acquired 1000Museums.com in 2016, app developer Alan Oppenheimer said, but the way is clear to create and meet new demand.

"This is one of the main reasons we bought 1000Museums, because it's so synergistic with our app business," Oppenheimer said. "There have been some challenges, but we've righted the ship. We had some financial holes the previous business dug for itself before we bought it, but we've filled them in."

Although one day there could be a brick-and-mortar presence, the closest thing to it is participation in First Friday Art Walks in Ashland.

At present, the company's four partners and two employees are keeping pace with orders, but by next month he expects to add more help.

"Retail is all about Black Friday, of course, there is Cyber Monday," Oppenheimer said. "But one of our initiatives is Museum Store Sunday. We're a charter sponsor and hundreds of museum stores will have free admission or 25 percent off at their gift stores."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.