Back Article Jun 1, 2012 By Dixie Reid

The hand-carved Italian frame hanging in the back of Archival Framing is priced at $1,400. It surrounds a $10 plastic clock.

“It’s a marketing ploy,” says frame shop and art gallery owner Darling Oldham Neath (she goes simply by “D”). “And it works every time,” drawing attention to the beautiful, gilded frame and away from what’s inside.

Neath has been preserving art and building custom frames for the region’s finest artists and collections for more than 30 years. It’s a craft she pursued beginning when she was just 19 under the tutelage of legendary Sacramento gallery owner Michael Himovitz. She fell in love with the local art scene, and the two helped to found Second Saturday Art Walk in midtown.

It’s her attentiveness that has kept her customer base growing for more than three decades. Once she accepts artwork for framing, Neath says, it goes in a drawer and will not leave the building until the job is completed. No more than two people will touch it.

“To me, everything we frame is precious. Everything we do is museum-quality — hence the name Archival. A big portion of framing is preservation. We have never lost or damaged a piece,” she says. “Any of those big-box places, by the time it gets back to you, it’s been handled by six or seven people.”

She framed the 2008 Andy Warhol show for the Crocker Art Museum and the 157-piece Wayne Thiebaud collection at Sacramento State.

On a recent day, art by Thiebaud, Fred Dalkey and Pierre-Auguste Renoir graced the drawers of Oldham’s shop on East Sacramento’s Folsom Boulevard. A few days later, those pieces were framed and back in the hands of their owners. Soon after, a private collector dropped off a Paul Gauguin painting for framing.

“People in Sacramento have some amazing collections,” Neath says. “We’re one of the few frame shops where you can bring in 10 things and get them framed overnight. We do a lot of funeral business, and artists are always late framing their shows. They’ll sometimes bring in paintings that are wet.”

In the shop’s gallery space, collectors will find a $14,000 Gregory Kondos painting, a $15,000 Al Farrow bronze and $10 Sacramento-themed necklaces Neath makes in her spare time. She represents such artists as Corey Okada, Eric Dahlin, Maija Peeples-Bright and the late Laureen Landau. The framing workshop is at the back of the store.

More than a decade ago, developer John Kehriotis hired Neath to frame all of the artwork and mirrors for his then-new Embassy Suites hotel along the Sacramento River. He hired her again last year to do the same, for a six-figure paycheck.

Neath, her husband, who is a licensed building contractor, and their employee and niece Nicole Oldham spent nine months stretching and framing 1,093 canvas prints of the four Terry Pappas paintings Kehriotis had commissioned for the hotel’s renovated dining room. All four images, on canvas, hang in each guest room. Tom Neath also made crown molding for the hotel using Archival’s framing machinery.

The Neaths invested $12,000 in tools to complete the Embassy Suites job, and it could be money well spent. Gary Pageau, publisher of the trend-tracking Photo Marketing Association International, says canvas paintings are booming in popularity.

The fad didn’t factor into PMA’s most recent study, which found that 5.3 million U.S. households bought custom frames in 2008, nearly half of them purchased at craft stores, such as Aaron Brothers.

Neath, who does 80 percent of her business in custom framing and the rest in art sales, says that her business model is simple: “My theory is that your framer is like your dentist. As long as he doesn’t jack up his prices or hurt you, you will never go to another dentist,” she says.

“Framers are the same way. I have not raised my prices in three and a half years. I approach every single frame job like the individual job it is.”

Archival Framing stocks more than 1,000 molding samples, everything from pink glitter to leather frames.

“Everybody thinks we’re more expensive than Aaron Brothers for frames, and we’re not. I have stock black molding that every artist in town uses. It retails for $11 a foot, and I sell it for $5 a foot because I order it a thousand feet at a time. When I did Embassy Suites, I ordered 14,000 feet of molding.”

Sacramento artist Ken Waterstreet, whose work was recently featured in Archival’s “Gone Fishin’” group show, became one of Neath’s first framing clients more than 30 years ago.

“She really treats artists well,” Waterstreet says. “I wouldn’t have anyone else do my framing. If you’re an artist, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to do the framing yourself, but sometimes you need someone who handles particular kinds of frames and mattes you can’t find on your own.”

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