PORTLAND – With all the talk of revitalizing the Old Town portion of Portland, there is one place located in that area that has been thriving since it opened in 1979.

Bowman Design and Framing is owned and operated by artist Dinah Bowman and her gallery manager and head framer Betsy Wagner.

While Bowman is the subject of a future edition, this story will be framed (pun intended) around Wagner.

“For me, I already had a bit of handcrafting and building background somewhat,” Wagner said of how she got into framing. “I mean I did a lot of my own home remodeling and helped with home remodeling and construction projects.

“My previous job I was a college professor who was a university professor in animal sciences for 11 years looking for a career change, and I’d known Dinah for 15 years and she says come be my manager and framer. 

“And so I did.”

Heading into the holiday season, Wagner has already been pretty busy.  The Bowman business handles framing and art acquisition for IBC Banks and is currently helping them with their Dallas and Oklahoma City branches.

She also mentioned that they had a frame so tall that when the bank went to install it, the piece wouldn’t even fit in their service elevator. They had to place it on top of the elevator just to get it upstairs.

“The next big piece that we’re going to do is one of Dinah’s prints, and I’m estimating the frame is probably going to be 12 feet long,” Wagner added. “It was that bluefin tuna that was caught in Port Aransas back in May.”

Bowman specializes in GYOTAKU, a Japanese style of relief monoprinting and she did a monoprint of the massive tuna that weighed more than 500 pounds.

And, of course, Wagner has some help in the shop, especially when dealing with massive pieces.

Corpus Christi resident Jaime Gonzalez, who graduated from Texas A&M International University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, works in the gallery as well. He’s had numerous exhibitions of his own work displayed in Laredo, Brownsville and Corpus Christi.

But large frames and tuna aren’t the only things that have made their way through the framing shop.

“We see a little bit of everything,” Wagner said. 

“We’ll have people that will bring in drawings their grandkids did that they want framed in the laundry room.

“Probably the most unusual piece that we’ve framed since I’ve been here was a piece of Sheetrock. It was in a house that was damaged during the hurricane.

“The owners’ grandson had drawn a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall in one of the bedrooms when he was a kid, and he had since passed away, and the house was severely damaged by the storm and they were going to have to completely demolish it. But the brother of the kid who drew the picture brought it in and it was in pieces on a plank and asked if there was there anything we can do with this.

“So we were able to stabilize it and shadowbox it, so that way they could still take it with them to their new home.”

While that was an unusual piece, she’s also had some things come in that most people wouldn‘t believe.

A Picasso has come and gone through the framing shop. An etching by famed Russian-French painter Chegall joined it later. And before Wagner joined the Bowman business, a Rembrandt had passed through as well.

“That’s when we start talking about using the high-end museum and conservation grade materials,” Wagner continued.

“From a material standpoint, we handle it differently than we would handle the child’s drawing. But they’re both pieces that are important to the people who own them for different reasons and so you still want to have that attention to detail to make sure that the piece comes out the way they want it to. 

“When we get in one of those high-end pieces, that’s when we pull out all the stops and it’s all museum grade completely acid-free materials because of the value of the piece.”

A piece she remembers fondly was a handwritten letter from first lady Jackie Kennedy sent from her to a personal friend.

“That was neat,” she recalled. “That was another one that was really special to work with and handle because the way it was framed originally 30 or 40 years ago, was not using conservation grade materials. But 30 or 40 years ago we didn’t know that.”

Working through her network of conservationists, she also had the paper cleaned and preserved before she reframed it.

Speaking of materials and conservation practices, Wagner said that she is constantly learning new techniques and heads to a convention every year in Las Vegas where they show off what’s new in the field.

“I’m also constantly doing the continuing education that’s available through our professional associations,” Wagner added. “Dinah has been doing framing for 40 years so I’ve learned a lot from her.

“When I first started she had a freelancer who was kind of helping to fill in during the transition and so he trained me on a lot of the day-to-day stuff as well.

“It’s needing to have the attention to detail and paying attention to that level of detail that makes all the difference.”