By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
In 2005, Tracie Spain became a raving fan customer of the Frame Gallery, which was being run by Tony Cooper. Through carefully selected and crafted frames, Tony defined her children’s portraits perfectly, and Tracie would find herself “coming to the shop to pick up a framed portrait,” and, as she puts it, “staying and talking for an hour.” Oftentimes, I found myself doing the same, and over the years, Tony and I would talk about everything from Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals to politics to history to art. I also have been a most satisfied customer, and many examples of Tony’s work can be seen throughout our house. Earlier this year, Tony told me that he was thinking about selling Frame Gallery, and I promised to keep my ear to the ground in case I met someone who would be a good fit and do him proud. We also began to plan his article for the 35th anniversary of the shop in case that just-right person hadn’t yet crossed his path.
In 2014, Tracie found herself in need of a job, and Tony found himself in need of someone to help organize frames and projects, as well as take care of customer service. Tracie had worked for Athens Florist for 3 ½ years, and also has experience as an accountant. In addition, she has a gift of organization that I wish I could clone! Tony taught her how to pick out frames and put things together, and under the watchful eye of long time Frame Gallery right-hand-man Dennis Martin, Tracie learned the framing trade. Dennis has an eye for precision as well as art. He was part of the team that designed and fabricated the robotic arm on the Space Shuttle, and did woodworking as a “serious hobby.” He started working for Tony in 2010. Dennis says, “I like it here. I like what I’m doing, and I am going to stick with it.”
Enter a childhood school chum of Tony’s, a successful businessman, but one who knew nothing about the custom framing business. The silent partner saw great potential in carrying on the Frame Gallery tradition, and bought the business with the understanding that Tracie and Dennis would run it. Remodeling, including new flooring and windows, started in March when the shop changed hands, and now there is much more display space.
In addition to this whirlwind of change, Tracie married her high school sweetheart in May, and since then, as Frame Gallery’s manager, she has been rearranging and organizing the display of frame samples and art work throughout. The place is busy, and once again I have had the chance to be a most satisfied custom framing customer. Let me tell you about it:
For the June 15th edition of Athens Now, I wrote a tribute piece about Wayne Huff, the co-founder of our paper, who recently passed after a tough battle with melanoma. I wanted his wife Deborah to have a special bereavement gift; and through tears I told Tracie and Dennis what I wanted, which was a beautifully framed copy of the article preserved behind conservation glass. Their eyes lit up at the prospect of creating such a piece, and in a word, they nailed it. The sight of the finished product made me cry all over again. The dark wooden frame had just enough decoration, and they triple-matted it with the colors we used in the article. They more than proved that they could carry on Tony Cooper’s tradition of creating superb custom-framed pieces at a fair price, and even if we weren’t doing this article, I would want everyone to know it.
It seemed a bit odd, having first-hand experience with their quality of work, to ask them my standard, “I-have-choices-why-should-I-come-to-you?” question, but I wanted to hear from them how they view their craft. Tracie told me that it centered around a commitment to quality, courtesy, and taking care of customers. “Some people are sentimental, and for example, we were able to frame a burned picture of a man’s wife. The picture had been burned in a fire and was nearly destroyed. First the man lost his house, and then his wife died. Being able to have the only picture he had left of her, albeit burned, carefully custom-framed and made beautiful through loss, was healing to the man’s heart. Tracie told me that she has some customers contract for a framing job, and they come and visit it, paying for it in installments until they can take it home to a place of honor. “That’s fine with us,” she said.
Perhaps Dennis said it best when he stated simply, “I treat it like I made it for myself.” If that is what you are looking for in a custom framing establishment, then come and help Frame Gallery and Art celebrate their 35th year in business.
Ali Elizabeth Turner