Frieze frame

Gallery at Frame Ups features $4 magnets to $1,000 sculptures

KINGFIELD – It’s a gallery. It’s a frame shop. It’s two, two, two businesses focused on art in one. It’s The Gallery At Frame Ups in Kingfield.

The frame shop occupies the front portion of the space near the entrance. Samples of frame corners that come in various colors, materials and styles are displayed on the walls, one fitted right after another – including glittery frame pieces alongside more subdued choices.

A colorful passageway leads seamlessly to The Gallery, where an eclectic assortment of artwork dominates. At least one patron describes its industrial interior as having a “techie meets home-like feel” with a contemporary twist.

It has dark cement, uneven floors that unabashedly reveal cracks and an old drain on the floor reminiscent of its auto repair shop days; an exposed ceiling defined by thick pipelines; and silver sheet metal baseboards that accentuate the walls painted in various shades of tan, blue and brown.

The Gallery at Frame Ups is in a spacious storefront on a quiet strip of Nicollet Avenue in Kingfield.

The frame shop and The Gallery are a natural fit because they feed each other; the frame shop provides a built-in clientele for The Gallery and vice versa. At the back end of the building is a workshop that smells of sawdust where employees put together frames.

Frame Ups is a custom frame shop run by owner Tim Harwig, who’s been in the business over 20 years in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Harwig had operated the frame shop out of this location for a year before revamping the 2,500-square-foot space to make way for The Gallery that opened in November. Over 300 people attended the first show opening.

When he bought the building, Harwig took over the then tenant flower shop but he eventually decided not to pursue it.

Walls were then knocked down and moved. Columns replaced steel pillars and track lights were mounted from the ceiling. Harwig and one of his employees, Nick Sagan, an artist, constructed the fresh walls themselves.

The gallery portion of the place is simply, appropriately dubbed “The Gallery.” It politely rebels against more traditional forums that are characterized by neutral white walls. In this case, however, white walls would be “too cold,” said Gallery Director Sarah Balk McGrill.

She spearheaded the design finishes and is herself a photographer. She has 20 years of experience dealing artwork, promoting artists and consulting on art.

Balk McGrill said that although she recently heard the color blue decreases sales, many gallery visitors have expressed fondness for the vibrant, chancy alcoves that are divided into vignettes.

The colorful walls provide patrons with an idea of how a work might translate to a home, office or hospital, for instance, she said. Sometimes, she can be found posing an important question to artists whose work will soon be hung at the gallery: “Do you see yourself on a blue wall?”

A casual atmosphere

The unorthodox setting is a testimony to Balk McGrill’s philosophy and mission to serve local artists and give them a place to exhibit. Her vision for the gallery is for a neighborhood hub wherein artists and buyers and others can gather.

“The idea is to make this as open and nonintimidating as possible. There’s an aloofness and detached quality in some other places. We want people to feel comfortable wandering around,” she said.

Children are also welcome in the down-to-earth gallery where even the stone and metal tables are works of art. “It’s fun to see kids excited about art in a place other than a museum. Art is for everyone. It doesn’t have to be for the educated elite,” she said.

Vast windows allow swaths of natural light to pour in, illuminating the artwork; myriad paintings, sculptures, photos, glass and ceramic pieces from 24 artists are on exhibit as part of its inaugural show. Works will rotate in April. While the gallery’s focus is local and regional artists, there’s no uniform aesthetic or price point. “I follow my gut instinct,” she said. “There are so many wonderful artists vying for a place to exhibit. I’m excited to have a place to expose people to fine art.”

That includes everything from expensive bronze sculptures (in the $1,000 range) to $4 magnets, complex digital collages that display classical scenes from Old Master paintings and operas to self-taught outsider art picturing childlike figures rendered naively, as if by a child’s hand.

There are also hand-blown glass vases; detailed portraits of women with elongated necks; oil renderings of local spots; expressive sculptures of men pledging allegiance to the United States; messy, scrawling messages painted graffiti-style on oversized panels; and tiny books.

The ‘wow factor’

Balk McGrill is planning thematic shows as well as an ongoing showcase of local artists that can be viewed daily. Unlike other venues, artists showing there aren’t required to be exclusive to the gallery or possess a long list of credentials. Balk McGrill said that, more simply, she’s looking for the “wow factor” when it comes to selecting pieces. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a standard, she cautioned, but there’s no one particular guideline dictating decisions about what to accept or reject.

Having once owned a gallery in the Longfellow neighborhood called Art Infusion, Balk McGrill is familiar with the local art scene. She’s also worked independently as an art consultant.

Artist Jodi Reeb-Myers has turned to Balk McGrill again and again for consulting services over the past decade. (Her 18-inch by 36-inch acrylic-on-canvas pieces textured by real sand and leaves were included in the first show.)

She said Balk McGrill’s been a constant advocate and representative for her work. As a result, Reeb-Myers, who has a studio Downtown in the Warehouse District, has been exposed to audiences she otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.

“I consider her a beacon,” she said of McGrill.

Phu Dong, a fellow artist whose abstract works have been featured at The Gallery, first arrived at Frame Ups as a frame customer. He said The Gallery is a nice departure from more officious galleries. “I really like the space,” he said.


For more information about The Gallery at Frame Ups, call 870-1292.