Courtesy of the Auburn Journal, by Gloria Young For 19 years, Kelli Fortenbaugh Lopopolo operated High Street Gallery in Downtown Auburn. She recently moved her shop to Meadow Vista and renamed it Sierra Art Services.
The Colfax High graduate attended Sierra College and has a bachelor’s degree in art history from California State University, Sacramento.
Her passion for framing began when she took a job at a frame shop in Newcastle after high school. “The more I learned about it, the more I wanted to know,” Lopopolo said.
After opening her own business, Lopopolo went on to earn the Master Certified Picture Framer designation through the Professional Picture Framers Association.
Following her graduation from Sacramento State in December, Lopopolo expanded her business to take on special framing projects for the University Library Gallery and Special Collections.
What are some of the items that can be framed that residents may not consider?
“Collections of all kinds. People collect the most interesting things — from antique buttons and coins to insects to butterflies. It’s kind of amazing what people collect. I’ve seen knives, even swords — martial arts stuff, put into frames. A lady made a needlepoint vest and still had the hanger from the 1970s with pipe cleaner wrapped around it. It was very special for her. I made a Plexiglas box and had a walnut base made for it. It had the hangar inside the box. I made it to sit on top of a cabinet or bookshelf. It’s hanging on its hanger inside the Plexiglas box. It reminded her of a different time in her life.
“Especially interesting are collections from a career in the military, as a firefighter, law enforcement official or other public service position — badges, patches, awards, military pins.
“A lot of people travel a lot and buy a piece of art on vacation. If you end up in Burma or Thailand, you are going to see a lot of kalagas – quilted and beaded pictures of an elephant or some kind of geometric design. They have to be framed a certain way because they are about an inch thick. In Egypt, people will come back with a papyrus. They’re usually made on tree bark and are of Egyptian mythology. … Thicker tree bark paintings are from Africa. I can usually tell where people have been traveling by what they bring back.”
What is the latest in framing technology?
“Actually (framers’ involvement in) science is making great ground. The picture framing industry is working more closely with the museum industry. We’re able to produce frames that will last over time and stand under (special) conditions. In museums where collections are priceless, everything has to be a consistent temperature and things have to be sealed to protect them against flooding, such as a disaster inside the museum where there’s a fire and the sprinklers go off. Now we can seal paintings so they can be dropped into a bucket of water and still stay dry. We know a lot more about adhesives. … The best adhesives are still the ones that have been used for hundreds of years — wheat paste, rice paper and hide glue (mostly rabbit skin glue). Those kinds of natural organic products are the things that last the best.
“Another thing that has changed in framing is the way matting is done. I have always been a mat cutter. It is done manually on a tabletop. It’s an art in itself to do those things and come out with beautiful mats. Now almost every shop has a computerized mat cutter. I’ve seen my specialty become obsolete. But I still do it by hand.
“Another thing with new technology is the advent of giclee — it’s a French word meaning spray. It’s what a digital printer does. There are so many giclees on the market — a lot of it on canvas. But it’s not really canvas. It’s halfway between fabric and canvas. It won’t stretch like a real canvas, especially with big ones. Artists and photographers are printing out huge images but with no way to contain them on the wall. We’ve found that gluing them down and making them a solid piece instead of trying to pretend they are an oil painting and stretching them on stretcher bars gives the best results.”
What types of glass are used in framing?
“I put UV glass on just about everything I frame. It has a 98.7 UV protection. That will keep light damage from happening. Interior lights do just as much damage as exterior light. That kind of damage is irreversible for paper and textiles. Oil paintings can handle the light. Pastels can handle the light. But the framing will fade.
“If it is an original piece or fragile or irreplaceable, I recommend acrylic. There are two kinds I use. The regular is 67 percent UV (protection). It’s better than regular glass. Then there’s museum acrylic, which is pricey but 99.9 percent UV (protection). Acrylic is good because it doesn’t break. When glass breaks, it often damages the artwork. With acrylic, the art is safer.
“I also use museum glass. It is almost invisible. It is anti-reflective without being non-glare. Regular non-glare glass is really fuzzy.”
What are other decisions that go into selecting a frame?
“I ask right away, ‘Where are you going to hang it, what is your wall color and do you light or dark woods in general?’ You don’t want to put a mat on a picture that is the same as the wall color. It will blend in. You want to create contrast. I ask about the size of the wall space. You want to make sure it will actually fit there — if we need to keep it small or make it big to take up a bigger space.”
Describe some of the options for framing.
“A man I used to work for said that good framing should be like it grew there. It should be a natural extension of the art work. It’s providing a function, containing it and enabling it to hang on the wall. There’s a balance. When you look at it, you want to focus on the artwork not the frame or the mat. I like to keep things time period appropriate. You don’t want to put a super modern frame on an antique piece because you want to match furniture. It is just wrong. Find another artwork for that room.
“The mirror I did for (a customer) Susan Johns was for a 1920s-era custom-made cabinet — black lacquer and gold. For the frame, I found black lacquer pieces that fit together. I had one that was the perfect shade of gold. I had it shipped from New York. It was the way these three pieces fit together and why. I just dabbled in art deco a little. You couldn’t just put a (plain) black lacquer frame on it.”
What is the largest thing you’ve framed?
“I actually have a friend who is a licensed finish carpenter. When things are really big, he helps me. We have strapped framing to the roof of his van. We have built things in a customer’s living room. When they are too big to come in and out of a door, we’ll assemble it and install it right there.
“One of big things in framing is you want to do everything so it can be undone at some point. In the life of every picture frame, it needs to be repaired at some point. In 100 years, someone will need to take it apart and put it back together. You want things to be able to come apart and then be put back together. That’s why we use adhesive that can be reversed.”
What is the price range?
“Ballpark is $300 to $500 to get some reasonable quality and something very nice. It can jump up to $800 pretty quickly if you have a big piece. Framing is labor intensive.”
When putting together a picture wall or wall with multiple hangings, what are tips to keep in mind?
“The thing to do is lay everything out on the floor in front of the wall. If it is a hallway, lay it out in the living room. Move it around on the floor until you get everything the way you want it. Get a (ruler) and measure the space between the pictures as well as the space itself. Then you can transfer it. It takes time and there’s a little bit of math and geometry involved. But you don’t want to go and just put nails in the wall with trial and error.
“Use the right kind of hardware. Never hang a picture on a nail. The nail will fall out and the picture will drop. Most people have regular sheetrock walls. There are very nice picture hangers that will stay in that wall.”
Any words of caution?
“Something new is frames made out of MDF. It’s a compressed recycled product. They can put a finish on the outside and make it look nice. But it is plastic and it will fall part. We have completely rejected it. A lot of pre-made frames, especially imported from other countries, are MDF. They’re cheap and look nice. But they are garbage. You are better off buying natural hard woods or even aluminum. But stay away from MDF. In a couple of years it will show its true colors and look like junk.
“As far as cost, I often tell people, it is better to (save up) and get the frame you want. If you have something framed properly, you are going to have it for generations. Get something you are going to be happy with long term.”