Creativity and community: the name of the frame game

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — It’s all about community. A community thrives on collaboration, creativity and trust — all of which Mona Lisa Framing in Maplewood prides itself in having. For these reasons Maplewood has boasted a frame shop for more than 50 years.

Maplewood’s long history in framing began with Dwight Morris’ shop in the 1960s. After it closed, the Robin Hutchins Gallery took up the torch, utilizing the space above Jerry Rose before moving to the current location of Words Bookstore.

It was with Hutchins that Mona Lisa Framing owner Krista Hyer, a Maplewood native and Columbia High School graduate, got her start in the framing business. As a pipe organ technician, Hyer was good with her hands and, when she saw a “help wanted” sign in Hutchins’ window, she decided to take the plunge into framing.

“It’s not something you decide,” Hyer told The Villager in a May 13 phone interview. “You just fall into the framing industry.”

Hyer immediately fell in love with framing, both for the work itself — for which she said she immediately had a knack — and for the effect it has on the community. By creating and supplying the next step in the artistic process, Hyer explained that the framing profession “supports and encourages the artistic process.”

“You’re supporting the creative process from its infancy,” Hyer said. “Robin sparked the art community in Maplewood.”

Seeing this effect, Hyer purchased Mona Lisa Framing in 2003 and has worked to keep this institution alive.

“Tradition is important in a town like Maplewood,” Hyer said. “When I decided to open my own store, I wanted to bring back some of the artistry in framing. I wanted to share with clients an understanding of light scale, the relationship of frame and mat and scale to the piece itself and to create a balance.”

And there is no better place to continue this tradition than in the South Orange-Maplewood community, which Hyer called “unique.”

“It cultivates something in a community when we have a vibrant arts community,” Hyer said. “We release stress through art. It allows the community to talk differently and relate to each other differently. Frame shops are supporting that whole process. It cultivates a deeper understanding of who we are and it is an important part of a balanced community.”

She also stressed that, by providing framing opportunities so close to home, community members are more likely to purchase locally made art, which also helps keep the South Orange-Maplewood arts scene thriving.

For Hyer, each project is special, providing a window into the artistic process of her client and allowing her to share in that moment as they work together to preserve and conserve the art.

“It’s all been a privilege,” Hyer said, remembering work she has done at her own store, with Hutchins and with Sage Galleries, where she designed custom awards for legends like Elton John and Whitney Houston. Additionally, Hyer has had the opportunity to frame memories through “the artistry of picture framing,” preserving photographs and documents from b’nai mitzvah, lives now ended, adventures and weddings — even sometimes a child’s first piece of art.

Nevertheless, one project that has always held a special place in Hyer’s heart is an early one in which she and Hutchins framed a tablecloth that had belonged to Anne Frank’s stepsister.

“It was a real honor to frame it,” Hyer said. “It was a piece of history and we wanted to preserve it.”

Hyer said that she and Hutchins even used the finished product to teach others about conservation through framing.

But each project has made an indelible impression on Hyer as they all allow her to connect with her fellow community members.

“It’s all about the cultivation of my relationship with my clients,” Hyer said. “There is nothing greater than being able to get a small glimpse into a person’s life and why this piece is so important to them. Connecting on a creative level helps us trust each other. It’s a beautiful way to get to know people. It’s all been beautiful. It’s such a gift.”

Hyer said framing is a service retail business, one in which she gets to connect with her clients on a personal level. To have a valued piece of art framed is to expose one’s vulnerabilities. Hyer said she has at times held clients’ hands and cried with them.

“It’s been beautiful and meaningful — one of the highlights of my life,” Hyer said.

But Hyer understands that this can be a daunting commitment for the uninitiated artist. She suggests finding a small piece to frame and working to forge a relationship with the framer.

“I encourage everyone to frame because I see how important it is to support the creative process. We have to learn to trust each other,” Hyer said. “Making art is taking the time to create with yourself, but framing is on a community level. Creativity has no boundaries, but we need each other.”

It is also about preservation, Hyer said. Properly framing a piece can protect it from the elements and allow it to last through the generations, so that a piece important to you can also be important to your children.

Hyer stressed that photographs should never touch glass, as they can become stuck to it, and that pieces should not be hung in direct sunlight, as they will fade, or above a radiator, as that invites moisture. Just as Hyer is focused on choosing the perfect frame, she wants to help customers find the perfect location, both to preserve the piece and to bring joy and inspiration when to those who see it.

But Hyer said could never do all this alone; she leans heavily on partners throughout the community, as well as production and store manager Dayana Moreno, whom Hyer described as “a terrific person, like family.”

“She’s her own creative phenom. She has an incredible design process of her own that she is committed to through love,” Hyer said. “She is yet another layer that gives Mona Lisa that creative depth.”

Through their hard work, Mona Lisa Framing was voted a Top 100 Frame Shop in America by Decor Magazine in 2007. Moreno and Hyer help keep this part of Maplewood’s history alive.

“It is a commitment to our forebears. Mona Lisa holds that torch now,” Hyer said. “The creative process is one of the most important things we can support in our community.”

Mona Lisa Framing, located at 7 Highland Place in Maplewood, is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.monalisaframing.com or call 973-762-2777.

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