When I was 14, I was introduced to Elmer Woggon. Elmer was a comic strip artist and he introduced me to the wonders of the kolinsky sable brush. From that point on, I always had a kolinsky around. Now, I find that harder and harder to do.
Are kolinsky brushes the next endangered species?
Throughout the United States, artists have begun to realize the scarcity of kolinsky fine art brushes. In fact, they may not be available for the foreseeable future. Finding a solution to the problem will take international cooperation. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) plays a major role in this issue. The 178-nation CITES treaty governs the import and export of kolinsky hairs.
There is a tug of war between the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the authorities of the European Union and the United Kingdom.
In America, the FWS is responsible for the enforcement of CITES regulations. Two years ago, the FWS found some shipments of kolinsky hairs that did not have proper CITES documentation. The FWS is now requiring CITES documentation regarding the sources of all kolinsky hairs imported to the U.S. The FWS has prevented-and in some cases confiscated-shipments that for decades have been compliant with CITES.
However, European Union authorities do not agree with the FWS interpretation of CITES regulations. The EU believes the documentation in question was in full compliance with CITES. At present, the issue is at an impasse and no solution is imminent.
CITES is concerned with protecting endangered species. The kolinsky sable is usually called a sable brush but it is not made of sable. It is made from the hairs of a Russian weasel, the Mustela sibirica. The Mustela sibirica is not an endangered species. Rather, the IUCA Red List of species tags it with a rating of "LC", least concerned with extinction. It goes on to state, "...there are no known threats to this species." However, the Mustela sibirica is listed as an Appendix III species on CITES, which means it is "lightly regulated."
All of this revolves around a sable brush that is not really made of sable and an endangered species that isn't really endangered.
There has been a lot of time and money invested in the research and development for a true synthetic sable brush. One source reports that they are very close and that the brush could be available as early as this summer. in the meantime, treat your sable brushes with all the loving care they deserve. Your old kolinsky brushes may become the next endangered species.
I want to acknowledge the help of many sources in the research for this report. Among them are:
Rosemary Thompson, Rosemary and Co.
The Product Information Department of Blick Art Materials
The International Art Materials Association, "Kolinsky update"
Brian Dubberly of Cheap Joe's Art Stuff