Completing a beautiful picture
Custom framing is a multi-faceted challenge. The wrong frame, glass or matting can mean disaster to an expensive art piece or family heirloom. Every piece is prized; there is no room for failure, just perfection. Imagine the responsibility of saving a family’s images for several hundred years. Today’s graduating high school senior will be tomorrow’s grandmother or grandfather. They may be gone, but their pictures or prized items will be cherished by future generations.
Step into the Northland’s Art & Frame Warehouse where this challenge is the job. Walking through the door provides a scene of colors, artifacts and pictures matched with the exact frame and matting. Sean Smith is the owner and master craftsman that makes sure every framed item is treated like a treasured piece of art. After all, for the customer it is.
I recently watched employees of the Art & Frame Warehouse work with a lady that had pictures from their lost home in the Missouri Ozarks. She appeared pleasantly surprised by the options for framing in price, color and even texture. That was not surprising with a couple thousand frames to choose from and any imaginable combination of matting. The real challenge was matching the right colors for the customer’s home.
“I have an art degree from the University of Dallas,” Smith says. “Matching colors is an important part of our business. I studied art and visited Europe for an idea of how they portrayed art. I was fascinated with the retail aspect of framing and preserving beauty. We try to have a frame for every item that can be displayed. We are constantly studying news ways of framing through classes or seminars.”
The vast array of frames in size, color or material offered is astounding. Hand-carved wooden frames from Italy, hand finished or polished is an example of the shop’s unique assortment. Some frames are less expensive while others are more costly, depending on craftsmanship. But a sign by the front door claims the Art & Frame Warehouse is competitive and often lower than craft shops, most notably chain stores.
“We don’t play the chain store game of marking the frame up and selling it for half price,” Smith says. “We just have low warehouse pricing. More importantly, we have many options chains can’t offer in creating beautiful framing.”
Smith buys framing material in bulk, by the truck load; that provides customer discounts for the highest quality.
“This all comes down to custom framing or taking a piece of art and finding a way to present it in a setting that will allow it to be noticed,” Smith says. “We start with a consultation to find out where the picture or item will be presented and find ways to dress up the picture. Some art presents different challenges. For example, a charcoal piece has to be treated if the artist didn’t treat it, and then add spacers to the frame to allow it to breathe and be separated from touching the glass then add the correct piece of glass. Any piece can be framed in any number of ways. We help guide customers to an agreement of how the finished work should look.”
Wedding, graduation and family pictures are constantly brought in for framing, but recently Smith had a surprise.
“We framed a Sporting Kansas City jersey for the President of the United States,” Smith says. “The jersey was presented to him during a visit. Framing pieces like a jersey, baseball bat, letterman’s jacket or other items is common in our business.”
Original paintings cover most of the walls in Smith’s shop. Some are from local artists and sold on consignment while other paintings are purchased by the store from different cooperatives or galleries.
I was shocked to find that some beautiful, framed original paintings that would cover half the average home’s wall sold for considerably less than $1,000.00. The most expensive piece in Smith’s store was an original of the K.C. Scout with Kansas City skyline painted by a Kansas City artist sells for $2,500.00. Of course there are many framed photos and paintings that are much more affordable for the average buyer. But imagination occasionally comes into play for an exception frame shop.
A good example is a coin display in the shop. The coins are suspended on different levels of museum glass and look like they are floating in space. Unique thinking makes the shop successful in all facets of art display. Smith occasionally visits houses or businesses to do art installations, big or small. Companies like Cerner, Children’s Mercy Hospital and United Missouri Bank use this service.