Though a talented artist in his own right (he graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in the late 1980s), Archie Scott Gobber has earned a reputation as the go-to framer for fine art in K.C. His business, Dolphin Frames, has served some of the city’s most selective private collectors as well as public galleries and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. We caught up with him in his West Bottoms-based workshop.
Kansas City Spaces: How did you get started in your craft?
Scott Gobber: I’ve been in the business for 28 years. I graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1988, and then in ’91 I started working for Ken Ward, who operates Ward and Ward Custom Picture Framing. I worked for him for the next six years. He taught me everything I know about framing and how to run a framing business. Then I got a job with John O’Brien, who owned what was Dolphin Gallery, and worked with him for 20 years. When he decided to get out of the business two years ago, he sold the building to Bill Haw, Jr. [who now operates the gallery as Haw Contemporary] and I bought the framing business.
KCS: You studied painting at KCAI. What was it like to make the transition from painting canvases to framing them?
SG: I was a fiber major for a year-and-a-half, and then I went into painting. For me, it went hand-in-hand. The style of painting I did was very meticulous; very tight. Those are the same skills you need in framing. You have to be precise, good with your hands. So it really just flowed right into it. I was able to make my own frames for my work, so it was nothing but helpful for me.
KCS: What is your approach to framing, and what sets Dolphin apart?
SG: Our general style is really simple. The frame is really just for protection; it’s not to interfere with the artwork at all but to emphasize the art and let it take all the attention.
We get the whole gamut of stuff to frame, from things with personal significance for the client to higher-end pieces for the museums and private collectors. Not every one is a challenge, but they’re all different and each requires a different approach, careful consideration and time, whether it’s a canvas or work on paper or photography. We specialize in large-scale work. We have a space we can do that in so we get a lot of jobs that other frame shops probably couldn’t take on just due to the scale. We have the ability to mount large-scale photography on aluminum, which is a big trend right now. There’s really no one else in the Midwest doing that, so it’s a big part of our business today. We’re very fortunate in that we have a good reputation in town, and people just keep finding us.
KCS: Are there any golden rules to choosing the right frame?
SG: There aren’t really any rules, but we try to steer people away from color. We like to keep it simple and stick to black, white, wood, metallic, gold and silver leafing. It used to be the big thing was if, say, there’s some green in your watercolor let’s do a green mat that matches and accents that. But what we’ve learned over the years is that colors come and go in and out of style. We try to steer customers away from that and choose a frame that doesn’t interfere or accentuate, though we do take the style of the artwork into consideration. For example, we do a lot of walnut because it’s easily stainable and takes a range of colors. It’s good for works with natural subjects, like a photograph of a prairie landscape; wood seems to make sense as opposed to a metallic frame.
Hazard of the Job
With his background in fine arts, Gobber is naturally drawn to visiting galleries and museums in his free time. We wondered if he found himself looking at the frames as much as the art.
“Always,” he laughs. “Maybe even more, actually. Years ago when the framing industry was booming they would have all these framing conventions and trade shows. We’d go to New York City to attend those, but of course we’d get out to go to the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney and we were always studying the frames. We’d look at them to get ideas for new styles or to reinvent old styles.”
Locally, Gobber says he also goes to museums to see his how his own frames are holding up. And to see the art, of course.