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WATCH: How They Frame A Wall-Sized Work Of Art In Kansas City’s West Bottoms

Julie Denesha

Frames have been used for centuries as decoration or to heighten the drama of a piece of artwork.

As part of an occasional KCUR series called Tools of the Trade — about artists and their relationships to the tools that make their work possible — we'll take a look at the complex creation of a very large frame.

On a recent afternoon at Dolphin Frames in the West Bottoms in Kansas City, Mo., Scott Gobber and his assistant, Wesley Landis, slide one of two glittery panels onto a large worktable. This multimedia work by Jamaican-born artist Ebony G. Patterson depicts a scene of six young men in colorful clothing, in a field of golden glitter.

Gobber, also an artist, says his frame shop is known for its simplicity, for frames with clean, straight lines.

"Ultimately, a frame is just a utilitarian object to protect something that is valuable and our philosophy is to keep things very simple, to let the art do all the work, let the frame in a sense be a utilitarian object that merely encapsulates it and keeps it protected," says Gobber. The process of building frames — big and small — is slow, steady and painstakingly precise. Archival matte board is measured many times before cuts are made. Gobber says precision is key.

"Everything has to be done right," he says. "Now there are times when things have to be done over. We try to avoid that. But you have precise measurements and things need to be those measurements. If they’re not, then it doesn’t look right. So the tolerances are very specific and again, they have to be executed perfectly the first time."

Credit Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
Ebony G. Patterson, Untitled Lightz II, 2013, Mixed media on paper, glitter at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

When the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art acquired this work by artist Ebony G. Patterson, they commissioned Dolphin Frames to build its massive, eight-by-nine-foot white-lacquer frame.

When artwork is super-sized  — like this one — both Gobber and Landis say framers need to get creative.

"That’s mainly what this job is about. It’s problem solving, thinking things through, knowing the procedures that vary based on the parameters of each project," Landis says.

"I used to think large was like 6 feet by 5 feet, but when you get into stuff that’s 10-by-8 or larger, you just gotta think it out a little more and work with each process and sometimes you need five people to get something done, so you get us all in the room and kind of direct people how it needs to happen and try to keep everyone on the same page."

When the framing is finished and the artwork is safely nestled in its frame, Gobber says that there is both satisfaction and relief.

"It’s a good feeling when that’s completed, when you rise to that sort of frenzied point of this has to happen right and then it does," he says. "And we can sort of relieve ourselves of it, and it’s like, 'Ok, it’s yours now. Thank you.'" 

Ebony G. Patterson, 'Untitled Lightz II,' 2013, mixed media on paper, glitter, a gift of the H. Tony and Marty Oppenheimer Foundation is on view as part of 'REVEAL, Works from the Collection,' through March 15, 2015, at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art on the campus of Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd, Overland Park, Kan. 913-469-3000.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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