While some kids were clamoring for trips to Disneyland, Gail Johnson spent many happy childhood vacations perusing art galleries and museums.
“My parents wanted to expose me to as much art and culture as was available to them,” she said. “I grew up in San Luis Obis po, and in the 1950s there really wasn’t much in the way of art here.”
One exception was a local framing store owned by Myron Graham. Visits to the shop as a child proved significant in setting Johnson’s career path.
“I got the impression that being in a business that is art-related keeps you happy, engaged and part of the community,” she said.
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Johnson opened up her own framing studio in 1985, which at times has also been an art gallery. Today, Johnson Framing Studio concentrates exclusively on framing.
Johnson may have an affinity for fine art, but she frames a range of items including photographs, needlework, textiles, documents and threedimensional items. She has framed a document signed by Abraham Lincoln, a drawing on a napkin by Toulouse Lautrec, original works by Chagall and Dali, an ancient antiphonal (sheet of music) on vellum, and a Rembrandt etching. On the other end of the spectrum, she has created gallery-worthy displays from everyday items such as children’s drawings and scraps from old quilts.
The materials Johnson uses are top-notch: archivalquality mats, moldings made from exotic hardwoods, burls and gold leaf. Naturally, this can be costly. So when is it worth paying more for custom framing?
“It depends on what you’re framing,” said Johnson. “If it’s something you want to keep, protect and be enhanced to the very best it can be, then pick a framer who knows how to do that.”
The first job of a good framer is protection — using materials and methods that will preserve the framed article. According to Johnson, most off-theshelf frames are not archival quality and can damage a piece over time.
The second job of a framer is presentation. This is the artistic sensibility that can combine moldings, mats and other ele ments into a cohesive look that enhances the piece. Johnson is not just a certified picture framer and art aficionado; she also studied architecture at Cal Poly. So her framing technique uses universal mathematical ratios, as well as principles derived from the history of art, framing and design. She also takes time to learn about the customer’s personal style.
Johnson’s own framing style is what she calls “understated elegance,” shunning trends and fads for something more timeless.
“I would like a person who had something framed by me 20 years ago to look at that piece of art and still love the way it’s presented,” she said. “It should be protected, but also current and classy.”
Because Johnson uses custom materials and precise methods, her lead time typically ranges from two to three weeks. For holiday gifts, she recommends a gift certificate so that the recipient can participate in the design process.
Johnson Framing Studio is at 3563 Sueldo, Unit N, in San Luis Obispo, 541-6600 or 800-541-6629.