HomeImprovementDesign and craftmanship the key to framing

Published on Thu, Mar 16, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Home Improvement
Design and craftmanship the key to framing

By Tara Nelson

For Leah Burton, framing is just as much about design as it is about craftsmanship.

“Framing a piece of art is like buying a piece of fine furniture,” she said. “It definitely adds something to the design of your home.”

Burton, a long-time construction worker and frame maker, said understanding design elements in helping a customer choose a frame for their artwork is often overlooked in the business.

“It’s just like in house building, there are builders and there are builders, there are framers and there are framers,” she said. “A lot of it is being able to visualize and some people can’t do that. So assisting customers in design is a huge part of it.”

Burton moved into her new space at 225 Marine Drive earlier this month from her former location on H Street. The new space has offered her more room to display her nearly 700 framing samples in seemingly endless varieties such as opulent 18 karat gold-brushed wood, beautiful stained burl wood, 17th century hand-carved Italian and Spanish antique designs from Larson-Juhl, Asian-inspired bamboo designs, cherry wood and avant garde styles of textured aluminum. Burton said she specializes in carrying Roma Moulding and Designer Moulding as well as Jayeness designs.

When customers arrive at her door looking to frame a piece of artwork, Burton typically suggests at least four options before letting customers decide.

“Some people come in and know exactly what they want, but that’s rare,” she said. “It’s just easier because I know exactly what I have.”

When this reporter caught up with Burton, she was framing a 32- by 16-inch original 1838 engraving of a curling scene by Scottish artist George Harvey. Burton used a with an interior black satin finish matboard to bring out the darkest tones of the piece and a 3-inch exterior gray matboard to balance out the engraving’s gray tones.

“The gray on its own is too plain,” she said. “The black mat keeps the black alive.”

Burton replaced the engraving’s original thin metal frame with a one and a half-inch embossed and sculpted black wood frame, but pointed out she was careful not to use too thick of a frame.

“Sometimes a heavy frame is too overpowering,” she said. “But really thin, little frames kind of get lost, too.”

Burton started her framing career at the age of 15, working in an art gallery and frame business for a family friend in Juneau, Alaska. After that, she took additional classes on framing and design. She didn’t open a framing shop until she moved to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in 1978, where she worked for 10 years until skyrocketing property taxes forced her off the island.

In 1988, she returned to Alaska and became a citizen lobbyist for child welfare protections, eventually becoming a full-time professional lobbyist for several national groups. Burton also worked on the Alaska pipeline and built her own house, to sell as an investment. Working on the pipeline gave her the money to enable her to move to Lummi Island in 2000 to build another house which she recently sold.

She moved from Lummi Island in 2005 to Blaine in search of a waterfront community with an island feel – but without the constraints of a ferry schedule.

“Blaine is one of the last little waterfront communities that is still affordable,” she said. “It’s growing in a fun direction and it’s a nice place to do business. I really like it here. It’s perfect.

“I thought about doing this here because it reminds me so much of where Friday Harbor was in ‘78 when I lived there. It looks almost exactly the same here as it did on Spring Street where you had all these buildings – some of them were remodeled and there were vacant signs everywhere. Now you can’t touch a place on Spring Street. Blaine’s right on that verge of meeting of the old and the new.”

Leah’s Custom Framing and Design is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and is located at 225 Marine Drive. Leah can be reached 332-7010.