Tony Cooper, owner of the Frame Gallery located at 701 N. Jefferson in Athens, began his career as a commissioned portrait artist and photographer at the age of 15. He understands better than most how important the right framing can be for anything designed to be hung on a wall for viewing, and in part learned the trade so that his own pieces could look their best. He also has been a strong supporter of Art On The Square from its inception, and says he “wants to see more venues for the arts.” So, he is choosing to, as Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see” by sponsoring an exhibition at Frame Gallery of the works of local artist Lance McLemore. The exhibition just opened, and will run through the end of October.
Lance’s work is stunning, and has been featured at UAH, from which he recently was matriculated. The exhibit at Frame Gallery is his senior project. It is arranged so that it starts with paintings that show the dark side of human nature, and as one goes around the room, it ends up with a pencil sketch (that is not Lance’s,) of Jesus with a man from biblical times. On one wall there is also one of Tony’s own works in progress, and exhibit attendees will be able to watch him work, something that doesn’t happen often.
Tony has built up his custom frame stock to the point that he is confident he has one of the largest selections of moulding and mattes in the Southeast. He also carries mattes that are made of silk and genuine suede. He has a philosophy when it comes to custom framing. “I specialize in preserving family heirlooms, and just about anything can be framed. A piece of a quilt that may have been ruined can look beautiful in a frame. So can your five year old child’s first T-ball game jersey, and it doesn’t have to have been from a winning game.” “Even broken stuff can look great in a frame,” he says with conviction. He makes frames “from scratch,” and enjoys running “a true, custom frame shop,” something that is a tad rare these days.Tony says that “nothing is better than a custom framed work, especially for the person who ‘has everything.’” He is encouraging people to think about having such a piece made for holiday gifts, and to get an early start so they don’t get caught at the last minute.
In addition to framing heirlooms, whether broken or whole, Tony is very aware that custom framing essentially creates a “unique piece of furniture for a wall,” and the true skill comes from not having the frame dominate the object being framed. By contrast, “a lot of people are unaware of the difference a custom framed mirror can make in a bathroom or other location in a home. It can make a room look completely updated,” he said.
Recently I was in his shop, and as he was busy with a customer, decided while I was waiting to take a look at his rack of prints that were for sale. They were varied and beautiful, and obviously would look stellar framed by someone with Tony’s expertise. To my great delight, I found a print for which I had been looking for several years, and let out a happy “No way!!” I had first seen it in Florida, hanging on the wall of a friend, and stare at it for long periods of time each time I go to her home. It was taken by a French photographer, and is of a man standing in the door of a lighthouse while the waves are crashing all around it and him. It is mesmerizing, and my friend keeps it in her office to inspire her to overcome her fear of water. Soon it will be the proud bearer of one of Tony’s frames, and will go on my office wall. I just hope I don’t get so lost in looking at it that I don’t get any writing done!!
Tony also greatly enjoys working with his customers to “co-create” a finished work. “They or I will come up with an idea, play off of it, the idea grows, and by the time we’re finished, we are both happy with ‘our’ work.”
Stop by the Frame Gallery and let Tony create a beautiful, one of a kind framed item as a gift for others or for yourself. He’ll even let you help.
701 North Jefferson
Athens, AL 35611
By Ali Elizabeth Turner