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What drew you to become a custom picture framer?

Sheila Pursglove

PPFA CONNECT editor Certification Board liaison
Forum Help Team
When I write feature stories for the monthly PPFA CONNECT newsletter, I'm always intrigued by how people were drawn to picture framing.

Some followed in the family business; some had a long previous career in an entirely different field and became framers in retirement; some are photographers or artists who started by framing their own work; some simply fell into it because they applied for a job; and many other background stories!

Recent stories included someone who worked in the Hollywood film business for decades; and the upcoming February CONNECT features a framer who worked in the tech industry for 30 years but was always passionate about art/framing and finally quit the job and opened her frame shop.

So what drew YOU to picture framing, and why are you passionate about it?
I'm second generation. I cut my first mat on a C&H cutter in the late 1970s as a middle-schooler. I continued to work around school through college then went off for a short time to work as software engineer. (My parents encouraged us kids to find out own way.) I missed human interaction, so I left that behind despite being good at it, now I've managed the 10,000 sq.ft. family art store with a staff of 20-25 people for the last 30 years. I'm more of a "consulting doctor" role these days for our framing department. My framers come to me with "the hard stuff" . . . like "a customer wants to float mount a Japanese silk piece" or "a customer wants a mat opening to match her kid's crayon drawing shape".

I kind of fell into it. I planned to go to vet school and was working as a vet tech as I completed my undergrad work. I worked full time and went to school part time so it took a bit longer than 4 years to graduate. I got married while in school and after a few years we got pregnant. I graduated and realized I was tired of school and my Aunt had a shop she was wanting to sell so I bought it. I have enjoyed framing ever since. Learned a lot from the employees there, read trade magazines, and attended shows. I got involved with PPFA to learn even more. It is a wonderful industry and with wonderful people.
Ha! I never knew that about you, Robin - fascinating! The veterinarian world's loss was the framing world's gain!
We were in the photo processing business. One day a regular customer (A wildlife artist) commented that we should consider displaying his work on our walls.
That night I was watching Johnny Carson, and there he was, our customer. I thought,🤔 I guess he really is famous.
Took him up on the offer, displayed his works and quickly became a Gallery. It was then I realized I needed to get educated in the field of art preservation.
That simple suggestion transformed our lives.
I initially got interested about ten years ago when I wanted some artwork framed. I almost had a heart attach when I was told what the price would be. Being pretty handy I thought, I could do this. I had a couple of pretty elementary lessons from locals and then set out on my own, more as a hobby. Things have gradually got bigger and I now operate my own business from my back yard shed, whilst also working full time at another role. It has really picked up since I started my website and in the middle of this year I will become a full time framer, retiring from my other job. I thoroughly enjoy it, especially the 20 second walk to work. Here in Adelaide, South Australia, a lot of framing businesses are closing down and fortunately I am benefiting from this unfortunate situation.
My dad ran a small machine shop. He gave me a set of drafting tools and I learned how to use ruling pens. In high school I took ‘Engineering Drawing’ and even ended up teaching a class on using a ruling pen.

I was also interested in photography and built my own dark room. The photo shop where I got my photography chemicals had an upstairs that had a frame shop and also was a distributor for moulding and framing equipment. They took an interest in me and let me go up there; I ended up buying some framing equipment and remember buying my first set of Crescent mat corners at around $5.00. (1960?)
I found some instructions on building a heat press with nicrome wire and plaster of Paris; I had my dad build a metal tray out of galvanized sheeting and built the press- it had a steering wheel on top to apply pressure. So I was then framing for my own photography and dry mounting fiber paper photographs; also doing some for others.
Went to college with a major in applied mathematics; got kicked out and went to Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam. Went back to college, also worked part time in photo finishing company that did framing. Found a wonderful partner in a statistics class (I ended up tutoring her) and we got married.
After college, put all of my framing materials in storage in my parents basement and worked in sales and marketing for a manufacturing company for 15 years; after company sold hired by national consulting firm to work with independently owned family business. Traveled 40 to 45 weeks a year. After 9-11 (2 of my coworkers died) and company being sold, retired.
My plan was to go back to framing, but several of my smaller former clients wanted me to continue working part time consulting with them (so I did, with my former employer’s approval). But I started building up my framing expertise.
I also started doing framing for these clients. (Example, a big customer or supplier comes to visit them; they take photos and email me a jpeg file; if I get it by 1:00 I will print and mat the photos (with Hand-colored bevels) and FedEx them to the east coast for first delivery, and they give their customer or supplier after breakfast the next day). So starting out most of my business was commercial. Got a chop saw so I could deliver frames photos overnight.
Cut frames by hand until I finally got a used C&H mat cutter. Cut glass by hand until I started selling more museum glass; hard to do a 40” score with 36” arm length.
Specialty is still decorative mats.
I love all these stories, thanks so much for sharing, people! Look forward to seeing more responses and interesting stories!