Framer Rekindles the Spirit of `Arts and Crafts': A California Framer Designs Hand-Crafted Frames That Blend Architecture with Art and Form with Function

By Bisoux, Tricia | Art Business News, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Framer Rekindles the Spirit of `Arts and Crafts': A California Framer Designs Hand-Crafted Frames That Blend Architecture with Art and Form with Function


Bisoux, Tricia, Art Business News


Art is a man's expression of joy in his labor.--William Morris (1834-1896)

The words of artist William Morris, founder of the design movement known as "Arts and Crafts," are words to frame by for Timothy Holton, owner of Holton Studio Frame-Makers in Emeryville, Calif. Inspired by the philosophies of the late 19th-and early 20th-century Arts and Crafts movement, Holton names among his artistic heroes those who championed it, such as Morris, John Ruskin, Gustav Stickley and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

In America, the Arts and Crafts style is often referred to as "craftsman" or "mission," but it stands for more than that, explained Holton. "The Arts and Crafts movement is about preserving the folk instinct of art, its folk spirit," he said. "Many people think this is a strange idea to bring to picture framing. But Arts and Crafts is about art and unity: The artist as craftsman and the craftsman as artist. This idea is exactly what we do."

Holton opened his business in 1993 as Holton Furniture & Frame. He made occasional furniture pieces such as tables and chairs, as well as picture frames. However, he recently decided to focus exclusively on framing, renaming the business to Holton Studio Frame-Makers.

"I like making furniture, but it just wasn't practical. I didn't have time to produce all the corner samples people expect when they bring in artwork to frame," Holton said. The shop, which operates out of a storefront and warehouse location in the heart of the San Francisco Bay area, caters to residential and commercial clientele. Holton has two full-time employees, a 340-square-foot showroom and a 1,200-square-foot production area.

All frames at Holton Studio are cut from raw wood, then sanded and stained by hand. Ranging in price from $100 to $1,000, Holton's frame designs often include intricate carvings in the wood. He makes frames from scratch, Holton said, because he enjoys creating a frame that fits a picture perfectly and connects that picture to the world around it.

"We design the frame organically, in much the same way an artist would paint a picture," said Holton. "We can add more of until the frame is perfectly adapted to the art."

Preserving a Heritage

At first glance, Holton's career as a framer may seem unlikely: After studying history in college, he spent seven years in theater. Acting helped him develop a sense of the important influence art, in all forms, has in people's lives, Holton pointed out. To support himself as an actor, Holton took a job in a frame shop. When he derided to leave theater, he realized a framing career was the perfect choice.

"As I studied the history of framing and design, I discovered framing really fed into my interest in history and architecture," said Holton.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Holton was surrounded by homes and furniture created with the Arts and Crafts philosophy in mind. As a framer, he realized that this philosophy, with its message of simplicity, unity and connection between artist and art, struck a chord with him. Holton now works to keep alive the Arts and Crafts ideal.

The Arts and Crafts movement began in England in the 1860s, and came to America at the turn of the 20th century. Its founders, Morris and Ruskin, believed objects in the home should have beauty and function, and mass-manufactured items were a degradation of craftsmanship. In the States, artists such as furniture maker Gustav Stickley and architect Frank Lloyd Wright were instrumental in making the Arts and Crafts design philosophy immensely popular, especially in the Midwest and on the West coast.

The Arts and Crafts movement fell out of favor in the mid-20th century, when World War II drew attention away from hearth and home. But there was a resurgence of interest in the late 1980s, said Holton.

"I was fortunate I got into this in the late 1980s, right at the time of the so-called `Arts and Crafts revival. …

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