The Hermès Postman
Kermit Oliver is a postman. A 70-year-old man, he enjoys the routine of his job, and in his spare time, he likes to paint. He also happens to be the only American ever to have designed a scarf for Hermès.
The iconic 90 cm x 90 cm Hermès scarf has been in production since 1937. More than 25,000 different screen printed designs have been released since then and the simple, handmade scarf has grown into a cultural reference point popularized by the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Grace Kelly, and many other famous names. Many websites offer complete databases of all the designs that have been produced.
Kermit Oliver was born in 1943 in Refugio, Texas, the son, and grandson of African American Cowboys. An introvert, he was interested in art from an early age, and after seven years of study at Texas Southern University, became the first African-American artist to have his work displayed at a major gallery in 1970. That gallery was Ben DuBose in River Oaks, where Oliver quickly became the best selling artist exhibited. Oliver’s work with Hermès began when he befriended the publicist at the DuBose gallery, who happened to be married to Lawrence Marcus. Marcus was in regular contact with the president of Hermès’s U.S office and when asked if he knew someone who could design a scarf with a western theme, he answered that he knew the perfect man for the job.
The success of his work led to fame and with some of his pieces selling for 70,000 USD, no shortage of income either. Uninterested in the attention that his work was attracting, Oliver retreated from the public spotlight, taking a job at the post office. He now only sells paintings commissioned in advance, for example, the scarf patterns he creates for Hermès. Taking an absolutely Spartan approach to his art, he works with cheap watercolor paper, and simple acrylic paints bought a local craft store, continuing his job at the post office to maintain his family life.
To date, Oliver has created sixteen richly detailed scarves for Hermès, each design taking over a year to complete. In addition to payment for the design, he also receives a royalty fee for each scarf sold, and according to Hermès, Oliver’s scarves are so beloved that they normally sell out before being officially released. The few examples that do turn up second hand on online auction sites often sell for more than double their original cost.