In this current financial market, it's easy to forget why you got into framing in the first place. The changes in the last few years have been enormous. But maybe it's time to get back to basics. People are the backbone of our business.
With today's financial market, it's easy to forget why you got into framing in the first place. Surely you could have found a safer and more financially rewarding business. But you had to go and fall in love with fine art and picture framing.
My first job in this industry was several days a week at a local frame shop—to offset the cataclysmic shifts in my chosen profession as a children's book illustrator. The woman who showed me the basics kept a tray of fillets under the counter. When I asked what they were, she told me, "Fillets go around the inside of a mat opening. We never use them." It was love at first sight, and I quickly became known to my beleaguered co-workers as the “fillet queen.” Fillets were so pretty, they jazzed up an ordinary frame design, and they quickly tripled the price tag of my shop’s average ticket.
I love the look of a really nicely designed frame package. I get a thrill when a customer agrees to one of my designs, and the pleasure continues when they open the finished product and can't believe how beautiful everything looks. It makes me happy to know that they will enjoy looking at their art for years to come—and feel that it's money well spent.
I've formed many wonderful relationships with customers over the years. Folks come in just to say hi and to sit and chat even though they haven't brought anything in that requires my expertise. Jimmy Stewart in "Harvey" has a wonderful line: "No one ever brings anything small into a bar." No one has ever brought something they don't care about into a frame shop. If it's on my table, I know it has to be special and demands my complete attention and the best design work I can muster.
My next frame shop was in a tiny village north of New York City with a high percentage of well-to-do customers who appreciated the ability to possess fine art, and the price of framing it was of little consequence. This little town is also home to a former President and a well-known senator, who were my customers. The objects to be framed were delivered by a lovely fellow who'd been the right-hand man during the White House years and continues to serve as a sort of majordomo through the transition into suburbia. I developed a pretty good feel for what was needed and, more often than not, just framed things as I saw fit and then called for a pick-up.
Several hundred family photos were delivered to the shop to be unfit, sent out to be copied, and then replaced. In the process of handling the former President's baby pictures, awkward teenage portraits, snapshots of backyard barbecues, and games of fetch with dogs of long ago, I felt as though I'd gotten to know this family.
I've had a long-standing theory that everyone's family photos are pretty much interchangeable. A picture of my Aunt Jean eating banana cream pie and waving at the camera looks just like your Aunt Gracie eating potato salad. Families are the same all over. We all get dressed up for a special occasion, and Mom makes us stand by the hydrangea in the backyard for the snapshot. Young men never know what to do with their hands, so they are often photographed leaning against their cars. Family albums are full of these, and I'll bet mine looks just like yours.
I stuck a note into one of the many returning batches of photos, thanking the President for his business and for the opportunity to see these wonderful pictures. I mentioned that I felt as though I knew him pretty well by now. Two days later I was assisting customers and someone said, "So, you think you know me pretty well?" My first thought was to say, “Hey, did anybody ever tell you that you look just like....” Then I noticed the surprised silence of my clients and the Secret Service folks blocking the entrance to the shop. He went on to ask, 'Where the heck are the rest of my pictures?" And from out of my mouth came, "Dude, they're still at the printers, but they'll be back next week."
Why did I call the former leader of the Western World “Dude”? I don't know. We proceeded to have a lovely visit, much to the amazement of that pair of clients I'd been working with. We talked about family history, who had done what and been married to whom, and we swapped dog stories. I got the unedited story of the sad passing of Buddy the Labrador. As I always suspected, families the whole world over share the same pictures. Even if everyone on Earth knows that your cat's name is Socks, the photo of your little girl cuddling him is priceless.
As framers we protect and preserve the scraps of things held precious by our customers. After the death of a loved one, sometimes all we have is a handful of snapshots to remember them by. How many times has someone walked into a shop with an 8”x10” glossy and said, “The funeral is in an hour; could you please frame this to put on the casket”? We stop what we're doing and make sure that this piece of work will be beautiful and as perfect as we can make it—and, above all, ready on time. We would never think of charging. It's just what we do.
We frame the unforgettable moments of our clients' lives—the pre-school handprint pressed into clay, the cap-and-gown portrait, the bride. If we've done our job correctly, these precious things will withstand the passing of years to be treasured by another generation.
For the past five years, it's been my pleasure to work for APF Munn Master Framemakers. We create the beautiful frames, and our clients are important collectors, galleries, and museums. For anyone who has a love for beautiful things, this is the place to be.
Anyone involved in this industry can tell you that we are facing challenging times. The changes in the last few years have been enormous, and it sometimes seems that we should have considered our chosen profession a bit more carefully. But babies are still being born; teenagers still get dressed up in their first tuxes and stand next to bushes in backyards all over America. And there's never been a bride who wasn't beautiful. These are the folks who are the backbone of our business. This is something that will continue because these are the moments we all need to hold onto.
So maybe it's time to get back to basics, time to remember what got us all into this business in the first place. We take the bits and pieces of life and place them carefully under glass—where they'll remain fresh and beautiful forever. Times may not be easy, but I wouldn't change a thing.