It was the simplest question, but the journey it took me on caught me completely off guard. “What caused you to get into custom framing?” In an instant, I was transported back to a much younger self; my sister was burning up deans lists (first Smith, then Tufts) while I was contemplating how to make a living being an artist.

But could it be a career? My practical self told me no. As I watched countless friends with MBAs scrape by depending on the temp pool to fund their passion, it didn’t seem like freedom to me. It seemed like a hostage situation.

My younger, practical self resorted to a checklist to satisfy all of my job hopes and dreams. One thing that has always been clear is that I love working with my hands. From installing the receiver for our new satellite dish (12 footer, baby!) to the VHS and the TV for my dad in the 80s to rebuilding our porch steps last summer, mechanical jobs have always come easily to me- and I enjoy them immensely. So, it was clear that I wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to be involved with art, to exercise creativity, and to do something different every day. I wanted to work with people. I wanted opportunities- to grow, to learn, to make my own choices. I wanted to feel appreciated for what I could do.

The list of things I did not want was much shorter, but concise; I knew I did not want to sit at a desk and to do the same thing every day.

When a ground floor opportunity opened at a chain store that specialized in custom framing, it seemed like a practical choice. It fit most of the criteria -except having the room to grow and learn, or so I thought- so I decided to give it a try. It would do, until I could figure out this art-passion-career thing.

Fast forward to today. Without thinking, I blurted out a practical answer to the question:

I got into framing because I thought I couldn’t make a living as an artist.

The answer was true, in a literal sense. It was the reason I started framing- it was the catalyst. But was it the reason I’ve stayed in framing for the last 29 years?

Absolutely not.

I am crazy, over the moon in love with what I do. I had no idea when I first started framing how completely it would satisfy every dream on my wish list. On the way home today, I reflected on my career and how perfectly my failure to explore a career as an artist pushed me out of my own way so the channel could be cleared for a career that would fulfill me in more ways than I could have imagined.

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Martin Sexton, wrote about his failure to pass the Real Estate Broker exam (among his other failures) that brought him to where he is today.

Thank god for failure
And the things I couldn’t do
So much of my life
It’s all I ever knew
Thank you for failure
And the mighty music
For making the dreams that chose me
Come true

I was reminded once again of how lucky I am last January, when my amazing shop manager Liz and I attended West Coast Art and Frame in Las Vegas. (Did I mention that she’s been with me for ten years? Lucky.) We had just had a business showcase in the Portland Press Herald, were included in stories about “businesses that thrive” in Picture Framing Magazine and Art Business Today, and held the honor of having one of Liz’s shadowbox designs showcased in the “Award Winning Shadowbox Designs” class at the show. But more important to me than any accolades was the opportunity to learn, grow, and connect.

To meet other New England PPFA members. To attend the class led by conservator Susan Duhl, who I was able to speak with at length afterward. To attend the ‘stump the experts’ panel, led by Hugh Phibbs, a conservator and former coordinator of preservation services at The National Gallery for 35 years, who relished tackling the most difficult questions we could lob at them. We took classes that talked about peel strength vs shear strength and vegetable vs starch pastes and ionic bonds and how starch is thousands of sugar units long and dextrine is hundreds long which makes it have a more aggressive tack and dear god there is always more, more, more to learn and how lucky am I? So lucky.

Thank you, K&M, for taking me on this journey of gratitude.

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