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Interview with Branda Byerley and Warren Tucker (The Frame Outlet), October 29, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Branda Byerley and Warren Tucker (The Frame Outlet), October 29, 2007
Date:
October 29, 2007
Description:
Interview with Warren Tucker, owner of The Frame Outlet in Wilmington, and his employee Brenda Byerley. Techniques of art reproduction, including giclée, are discussed.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Byerley, Brenda and Tucker, Warren Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll / Shiver, Ashley Date of Interview:  10/29/2007 Series:  Arts Length  90 minutes

 

Jones: October 29th, 2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Ashley Shiver. We're visiting with Warren Tucker, who will be here soon, and Brenda Byerley whose artistic suggestions for framing just about anything that made her a valuable employee. We're at the Frame It outlet on Kerr Avenue in Wilmington, North Carolina. Good morning, Brenda.

Byerley: Good morning.

Jones: This place fascinates me and today we were privileged to have a run through of an entire operation which is like a factory all in itself. We'll let Warren Tucker talk about that. Tell me something, how did you get involved in this kind of work?

Byerley: I moved to, left Wilmington about 25 years ago and I worked in--

Jones: From?

Byerley: From Southern Pines, North Carolina and previously from New York. And I decided I wanted to live on a coast. I came. I worked in the restaurant industry for about five years. And there was an ad in the paper to work with the frame outlet and I came and got the job. That's basically it. There was no formal training. I was trained here and I just have enjoyed it so I stayed.

Jones: And you've been here how long?

Byerley: Approximately 12 years.

Jones: So this was sort of on-the-job training.

Byerley: Yes, completely. I had done some of the-- they offer a frame-it-yourself option which means you come and put the picture together as far as the physical-- you clean the glass, you put it in the frame. And I had done that myself a few times prior to having worked-- and so I knew I could do at least that part. So I came to see--

Jones: Now the owner is Warren Tucker?

Byerley: Yes, and his wife Antoinette Tucker.

Jones: And he does just about everything.

Byerley: He started the business and did all of the work that we do at one point. And then as it grew he didn't have to do it any longer, as I understand it. And he now is in the fine art reproduction business doing giclées--

Jones: That's wonderful, we're eager to hear about that. When a customer comes in and they have no idea of what to do, since you've been here about 12 years you've probably seen almost everything. Do you develop your ideas from talking to them about their project or--

Byerley: Well, it's always been difficult when people don't know what they want and unless you directly there and ask them. You don't know whether or not-- that was Warren. You don't know whether or not-- it would take an awful long time if you didn't address it. So the first thing I basically say to somebody is do you have any idea what you want. And if they don't, you can go from there. And a lot of people do which is great. It makes my job a lot easier. The rest of us-- we all wait on people so it's a really, you know, individual way to approach it. But I like to ask people if they have something in mind, it makes me easier.

Jones: Can you kind of scope out if the people who have been a little bit creative and a few suggestions.

Byerley: Oh, yeah. It's very obvious if somebody has something in mind or if they don't and they kind of say, "Well, I'm here because this is what you do." And then they want you to tell them what they want.

Jones: Do you have sources in town that you work with constantly or often, let's say a university. You mentioned to me earlier something about Screen Gem Studios.

Byerley: The movie industry here in town uses us frequently. They definitely have their own ideas because the guys that come in here are set dressing. And they know what they want it to look like. They know what they want and just go.

Jones: So they work mostly with doing art pieces?

Byerley: They put art on the walls to make a scene feel like the thirties or feel like the nineties or whatever. And they pretty much have in mind what they want.

Jones: That's kind of fun.

Byerley: Oh, yes, it's a lot of fun. It's interesting if you watch One Tree Hill you see us on the walls.

Jones: Up on the wall on One Tree Hill.

Byerley: Up on the walls. For about 30 seconds.

Jones: Do you get a kick out of that?

Byerley: Occasionally. I've only watched it a few times to be perfectly honest.

Jones: I've never seen it, I have to admit. And you also mentioned that there is a screen printing done and-- we'll talk to Warren about this.

Byerley: That's-- yeah, that's Warren's expertise. He's been reproducing fine art and producing giclées for a lot of local artists and for a lot of artists, I presume mostly on the East Coast. I'm not sure everything that he does-- we don't always, you know, he's on the Internet and talking to people, to so-- he's in his own little world.

Jones: What are some of the most interesting or unusual things you've done?

Byerley: Well, I didn't do it but they put a gardening hoe in the shadowbox, someone's grandmother's gardening hoe, fond memories for this person and they put that in the shadowbox. I think that's one of the most interesting. We've done guns. We've done-- oh, gosh, shark teeth, we did a dragonfly, personal photos. Family photos have been interesting because then you see-- you get a story, most of the time, where people come in and then they'll tell you a story about this family member, this was 1890 and how it went on down. So it's interesting. And I like to talk to people. Not everybody does but I do.

Jones: You're good at it.

Byerley: Occasionally.

Jones: The artists that you have worked with, and I'm going to ask Warren the same thing, do they pretty much have in mind how they want to see their work displayed? Or do they ever ask you for an opinion or a suggestion? Or do you feel free in just making an opinion or suggestion?

Byerley: Well, I am opinionated so I feel, I mean, I interact a lot. I like to do that. Some people do better at just saying okay. Some of the artists that come definitely know what they want. Gayle Tustin is a local artist and Pam is a local artist. Pam is very definite about what she likes but she does ask occasionally.

Jones: How do you frame Gayle's stuff?

Byerley: Gayle definitely has her own ideas. She goes over to the-- we have frames that are already built. And so she goes over there and plays with those a lot. She has a most definite-- Gayle's probably the most definite about what she wants.

Jones: I can understand-- I can see where she-- 'cause she does various media too.

Byerley: Right, she does do various media.

Jones: And now she's doing walls of stuff-- think big.

Byerley: And she's done sculptures. I mean, she's been, you know, she's been--

Jones: And tower.

Byerley: All over the country, actually, doing this. But those are two specific people that come to mind because they have-- just very definite on what she wants. And as far as even measurement of how much something is to reveal a color or something. And Pam is pretty laid back.

Jones: Pam?

Byerley: Pam Toll. And she just, you know, she-- her things are quite interesting and can take almost any kind of framing. So it's-- there's no definite, there's no right and there's no wrong. It's all about how it looks to the person that's going to put it on their wall. You're going to live with it so you might as well like it.

Jones: Yeah. Do you have any interest in art yourself?

Byerley: Yes.

Jones: You do?

Byerley: I don't do-- I'm not an artist but I appreciate art. I like to go and view and-- all kinds. And I wouldn't say I'm any kind of aficionado at all. I just know what I like.

Jones: You know what you like.

Byerley: That's it.

Jones: Is that the way it is with most people.

Byerley: Basically, that's what it's about as far as I know. I mean, artists-- you can kind of talk to artists, you know, they do it and they put it out there and then they go, "Oh, is that what you see in it?" So it's not-- to them I don't think it's even definite. They had an idea when they started. They may have turned it into something else when they finished.

Jones: What has been your biggest challenge?

Byerley: This tensador thing. I mean, not truly. But we've gone from doing a lot of things by hand, stretching canvas, that kind of thing, to some technology which, as I understand it, is part of the interest of this interviews is that how things are changing and the technology that's coming into this business. The tensador it stretches canvas and initially--

Jones: I was going to say, tell us what a tensador is.

Byerley: A tensador is a machine, and you can shoot it if you want to, that stretches canvas. It's a long bar that clamps down, holds the canvas in place. And you physically put the frame or the stretcher into it and then you staple that to stretch the canvas. We did all of this by hand prior to this. And being a creature of habit, any kind of change is tough so I wasn't all that excited about it initially. But now I love it because it makes life real easy.

Jones: You got a little bit of shoulder room.

Byerley: It's really fast and it-- the hardest part is to set it up which is nothing. It's a matter of putting something into the right height. It's a really--

Jones: Are you a quick study?

Byerley: Well, I don't know if I'm a quick study, in some things. This was difficult for about a week to me because I had to, you know, I had to make sure that-- I don't like to do something unless I do it right. And I wasn't doing it right so-- anyway, it's great now. But that's part of what's going on. Warren is on the edge of that. He really likes technology. He really likes to progress as things go along and that's where it came from. He saw it at a show and purchased it. It was here and it's really-- it's fast and it's efficient and basically--

Jones: About how often do you work with canvas? You do with the artists but...

Byerley: Probably, it can--

Jones: ...usually it's in oils for something, isn't it?

Byerley: Right. It's-- we use this for both stores, for the Frameworks, which was the original store and the frame outlet. And we stretch quite a few canvases. Mostly prints and watercolors and that kind of thing, but we do quite a few. And we use some of the things that Warren has done.

Jones: Do you assist in hangings?

Byerley: In hangings. In people's homes or people's-- ?

Jones: Well, let's say for an exhibit, whether it's a museum, whether it's a gallery.

Byerley: No, we have not done that.

Jones: You don't.

Byerley: No, that's-- for the person-- for a residential situation, people ask, you know, they're not quite sure where they're going to put it. We might suggest, "Oh, well, you could group it with other things," you know, you could stack the pictures if you've got two and they're the same size. But that's not-- I wouldn't really consider that. I mean, it is a suggestion but it's not a professional hanging, no.

Jones: Aside-- have you ever-- I know I do work-- and someone comes and choose a frame and you know it's wrong.

Byerley: Yes, I say so.

Jones: And you say so.

Byerley: I don't think you're going to like that. I think it's going to overpower the piece. I think it's too busy. You're going to look at just the frame and not the art. Yeah. I tell people that. And sometimes some people are just so undecided and they get to a place where they just don't know and they like it. I say, "Well, you like it. It's going to be on your wall. Then you should do it." There is a point at which it's just a matter of personal taste. And you try to gear things toward we think is right but it's only my opinion. It's not like I went to school for it or anything. It's developed over my lifetime, too, what I like. And I can say that. I've said, "I like it but if you don't, then you shouldn't do it that way."

Jones: Well, I imagine after 12 years you probably have an idea of how some of these styles or frames might look for certain...

Byerley: Yeah.

Jones: ...big pictures, prints.

Byerley: And it's-- just because of the time involved, you know after awhile whether or not-- you can visualize better than the average person. A lot of people frame-- interests for their houses and other, you know, I can't even imagine how many things we've framed in the time I've been here. And how many things they've framed in the time they've been in business, so after awhile you get an idea of how it will look.

Jones: Do framing styles change like everything else?

Byerley: Oh, yes.

Jones: What style have you got now?

Byerley: It depends on our clients. There's a lot of photography that's being done just with the white mat and black frames. It's kind of a museum style. And the natural wood, like, this piece-- I don't know if I'm-- this is good. This kind of thing has been popular for just contemporary We have everything, though, it's, you know, and I ask people that, "Is your home traditional? Is it contemporary? What kind of feel does it have?" Or people come in with old pictures and they're redoing everything to make it fit their new home. Or just-- it is stylized.

Jones: You spoke about classes or you have areas here where people can do it themselves. You consider that sort of a study group that you and anybody else that work here conduct? I mean, how do people know what to do?

Byerley: We show them what to do. We cut the frames, the glass, the mat, we prepare all the materials. And they can construct it basically. By cleaning the glass, putting those pieces in the frame, they're stapled and then close it up. It's very simple and we show them how to do it. It's-- some people get to the place where they come frequently because they just like to do it. And they're good at it and we don't have to help them all that much. Other people just do it once and then decide, no, that's not how I want to do it. They don't like doing it. It's all-- it wouldn't be a study group so much. It's just--

Jones: Just sort of hands on.

Byerley: Yeah, just a hands on, almost like a craft, you know, arts and crafts kind of thing.

Jones: With the input of so many people in the arts, I'll put it that way, that have come to Wilmington, there seem to be many, many more galleries, studios, groups, than ever before. And in your opinion, why do you think that's happening here at the moment? Or is it a fact that-- it's word of mouth somebody talks to somebody else. I'm interested.

Byerley: I'm not quite sure about the artist community and why it's here. It just is. And it seems to maybe--

Jones: Has it grown in the 12 years you've been here?

Byerley: Oh, yes. And maybe because it's coastal, tourist area. Just a matter of people coming from different places. It's such a little nest for the south, Wilmington, and it still has a core of very traditional people living in the area. People who have been here and their families have been here. We've got so many people coming now that I guess probably because it will appeal to the population growing. We have such a bigger variety now. The population is more varied so they'll be looking for other things. And I think that when somebody hears that from another artist or hears it just in general, in conversations. It's the same with restaurants, that kind of thing. I just think they grow as the population demand those needs. We've done an awful lot of framing and stretching canvases for people to do displays. We have another artist who's name's Ben Keys and he's just put some things in a show. And they've been having a lot more shows. The local artists have been having a lot more shows.

Jones: Constant.

Byerley: Yes, and have been hanging a lot more things. And we've done an awful lot of it. And I think sometimes we do and we don't even know what it's for and someone just comes in and just does some things and they're hanging them at Port City Java for instance. I mean, it's not just an opening. People are hanging things in a variety of places.

Jones: That's sort of their décor down there, I guess.

Byerley: Right. It's been local art.

Jones: Café Phoenix, I guess, is doing the same thing.

Byerley: Right.

Jones: Ashley, with your background and your sensitivities, how do you feel, what would you like to talk about? What do you think we've missed?

Shiver: Gosh, I think we've covered a lot of things. Put me on the spot.

Jones: Well, that's all right.

Byerley: I think we're-- I think in general it's been really interesting to see another store who's been at it so much longer and they've seen much more. But I think that people don't think about it being important to them until they get in the house and there's nothing on the wall. Or they get into a restaurant and they want to have an ambiance. So they start looking around, what are they going to do? It's interesting in that respect to see the different things that come in and what people-- how they live and what they look at. I mean, you live with what's on the walls for a long time.

Jones: Yes, you do. Now that brings up something and I've been in this dilemma before. Even when you paint walls or you move, you might have a favorite picture that you absolutely adore. But it's antiquated. It looks old. It looks like something my grandmother might have had with the heavy gild, et cetera. And that needs to be reframed.

Byerley: We do a lot of that.

Jones: You do a lot of that.

Byerley: Mm-hum. We've got people come into the area that moved here, built a new home. They come from New York or wherever, Midwest. And the style that they had was one thing and now they want it to be different. They want it to be a little more airy on the coast. So we do a lot of things like that. We've taken old pictures that are, you know, before the turn of the-- not this century, but the last one and put them in a metal frame kind of like that, just to make it look more contemporary. They've seen it in a magazine or wherever. And some people bring the magazine picture in and say, "This is what I want." Which is okay; that's great. When they have an idea what they want, it's a lot easier.

Jones: I saw a book recently, two of them. One I have, one I don't, decorating books is one-- decorating with pictures and it was showing how you take anything, we're speaking magazines, even something out of, well, it would have to be a particular magazine, but you have it framed. Because you can change them around-- they have-- you can change around. I think once I get them up, I'm not changing that.

Byerley: Yeah.

Jones: No more holes in the wall.

Byerley: No, and actually there are a couple we work with, well, frequently we work with designers, and--

Jones: Is there a company in town that does staging for model homes or staging for department store.

Byerley: Yes.

Jones: They used to be for stores with furniture or like...

Byerley: Actually, Hagan Homes, which is a husband-and-wife team, do the private homes. And she stages those homes. I mean, she decorates those homes for the Parade of Homes. And that style has become quite known to a lot of people who have done this. So they come in looking for this. She's--

Jones: Do you help them with that? You do.

Byerley: We are, I mean, it's not like they come in and contract us to do it. We help them with what they're looking for, the kind of look they're looking for. We've actually had a decorator come in and just-- we make these ready-made make frames from scraps of jobs that we have. And we had a lady come in and just pick a variety of frames and that's what she's going to do for a rental home. She's just going to put a configuration of frames on the wall and that's it. And I know she's seen that in a magazine. So-- and you'll see that if you look in Metropolitan Home-- you see all of these things. People get their ideas from the weirdest places.

Jones: Well, gosh.

Byerley: But it's good, though. It makes for something to look at. The whole thing is about being visual, because it's all about what you see and how you like it.

Jones: Can you tell us some of the businesses or people that you've done repetitive work for? That corporation-- you just mentioned Hagan Homes. You told us before that Warren does the azalea festival prints.

Byerley: We've done a model home for Builder [ph?] Homes. Warren does-- they have their information centers for their developments and in those places they have a table with a plot scheme and Warren has printed those. He made a table for one so they could put it in there and then block it off as to what was sold and what was not sold. They have pictures on the walls of, you know, happy families, kinds of things. We've done-- he's printed those and we've mounted them and-- so they can put the hardware on the back that says basically they can put them in place. And I guess they're interchangeable with what we've done-- a piece of wood on the wall that has an angle. There's a piece of wood on the back of that that has an angle and it locks in. And therefore they can move them, they're consistent. We've done that. My memory isn't the best. Janelle could probably tell you a lot a lot about other places that he's worked with on a consistent basis. I can't mention names.

Jones: Did you mention to me the university?

Byerley: We've done some work for the university. We've done-- I think just probably putting things on the walls in offices and that kind of thing. I don't think we've done any-- some of the kids come in from classes, from [inaudible] and some framing. We've worked with, gosh, I can't remember names.

Jones: That's all right.

Byerley: My memory's not the best.

Jones: I think you're doing pretty well.

Byerley: It's just a much-- Screen Gems has been the major namesake.

Jones: But they come in and they just-- they ask for your assistance. Or are they-- do they just tell you?

Byerley: Well, sometimes. Basically they tell us but sometimes they come in with names. And-- names, what am I saying? They come in with questions as to what we would do. But not often.

Jones: Is it easier if someone knows specifically and they're telling you what to do.

Byerley: Definitely much easier. The designers are very specific most of the time. Most of the things that people have questions about are those people that don't do this for any kind of living are involved in it in any way. And they're just like design.

Jones: Let me return to artists for a moment. Their specific personalities with them, there are anybody. Each one has their own imprint or character, you can see it in their work. Do you, without naming names, do you kind of recognize this or have you learned to recognize this, and try to help them accordingly?

Byerley: Yeah.

Jones: Or do you just let them go?

Byerley: Yes. You know, well, you-- some of them you luck on. Some of them you've done enough with them that you know exactly what they want. They want something very plain and simple contemporary, or others want something that's really over the top and very ornate. It's their work more so or fun as we call it or funky as we call it.

Jones: Are they ever wrong?

Byerley: Yeah.

Jones: No names.

Byerley: Well, I can feel they're wrong. But it's theirs.

Jones: Of course.

Byerley: And you try-- and there are people that come in, younger artists that haven't shown a lot. And they ask a lot of questions about, "Well, what do you think? How would this sell?" And I always say, "If you want to sell it, make it as generic as you can." Put a light mat on it, maybe just mat it and put it in the bin type thing where people can look through and they can pick their own frames. Some people it is required to go to the galleries that they're mat framed only. So I would be generic. Be as simple as you can because they can always reframe it. But most of the simple things can be put in any environment, like, go into anybody's home. And that's what they want to do. That's the point. Some of them. Some of them are not so concerned about what you think.

Jones: Tell me about the younger group of artists. Are they-- there's a large group of them now. There's a lot-- I think than ever before. I'm not familiar with all of them. I'm familiar with some. They seem to have developed their own school of painting, more or less. Styles, colors. Not quite so detailed, et cetera. Do you find this to be true? Do you recognize when art, like anything else, music, food, clothing, seems to progress, whether you like it or not, from one style to another in advance. Or just--

Byerley: Well, yes. I think art is that thing, at least the way I look at it, art is that thing that can be expressed by someone who's 5 or someone who's 95.

Jones: Well, we've seen that.

Byerley: Yes. Yeah, and the-- and it's not, as far as I'm concerned 'cause I'm not trained in it, because some people can go to this big dialogue about what is that painting and how it appeals to them through specific things that they've learned by studying art. I know what I like and I think you see other thing. I don't think it changes that much, to tell you the truth. I think some things-- I think it's the way someone sees it. And then they see it because they've looked at a Matisse, then they see a specific way, they like that and copy it. Because they've seen-- and photography is the same. Now that we have digital imaging and digital work, people can take a photograph and alter it on a computer and make it look more like a piece of-- what I call art.

Jones: It brings out something, yeah. Do you people digitize photograph--say these are pieces artwork. Or--

Byerley: We haven't done some of those.

Jones: --to clear up (telephone overlap).

Byerley: Well, we have done-- Warren does that. He'd be better to tell you about this. But we do have restoration photography. He scans it, puts it in a computer and then works on it to bring it back to its original state, and all the color. He can fill in places that are missing. He actually-- I'll get up and show it to you. Just-- can we come back to the--

Jones: Where are you going to go?

Byerley: I'm going right there and come back with a piece that he's done.

Jones: Okay.

Byerley: Can you see this?

Jones: Oh, yes. Is it--

Byerley: Is there a glare?

Shiver: Can you hold it up just a little bit?

Jones: Maybe you can walk closer so you're out of the-- there you go.

Byerley: Okay. It came in a box in pieces. These are the pieces spread out.

Jones: Just turn the-- that's it, is it? The-- no. Forgive me just a--

Byerley: Too much glare?

Jones: No, that's--

Byerley: Okay, well, it came in a box in pieces. It got laid out on the pieces. He constructed it to this point and then this is what he did.

Jones: Oh, look at that.

Byerley: There's the end result.

Jones: Amazing.

Byerley: So you can click on these areas and drag color into the places that are missing. This is once again something he'd be better to tell you about.

Jones: Right.

Byerley: Because he's-- the technology's-- I don't know it.

Jones: Right.

Byerley: And he has-- oh, he's in the building. He is here. So if you were-- at whatever point you'd like to-- not talk to me.

Jones: No, we love talking to you.

Byerley: Okay.

Jones: You've been very interesting. And--

Byerley: Well, I hope I've given you some kind of--

Jones: You have.

Byerley: It's all really, it's all personal.

Jones: I have one last question for you.

Byerley: All right.

Jones: Because after 12 years, it's been a hands-on learning process.

Byerley: Yes.

Jones: And we've gotten the gist of your personality, forever, but you've learned a great deal.

Byerley: Oh God. Yeah.

Jones: What would you like to do that you haven't done yet? Is there anything that can be framed or a suggestion to an artist or a piece of work or something like that, that you have not-- give a suggestion about or something like that. I'm talking about you, Brenda.

Byerley: Something I would like to do?

Jones: Well, if you don't know.

Byerley: Not really. I think that, really, in 12 years--

Jones: You've done it.

Byerley: Done an awful lot of different things and I really like the stories that come with some of it. That's really interesting to me, particularly the old photography. People bring in a lot that we've seen and an amazing collection of Minnie Evans recently. You know, we've had about 30 pieces. So that was quite interesting to see all this.

Jones: Had this come from her son George?

Byerley: And-- I'm sorry?

Jones: Did these pieces come from her son, George, or are they-- these are the people owned?

Byerley: I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth where all of the pieces came from. There's a specific person there that comes to this shop a lot. And he just actually had a one-day show. I'm not quite-- Dr. Christian Daniels name and he's the gentleman that had all these pieces. And I'm not sure. He's gotten-- he's collected over the years so I'm not sure where he's gotten all of it but they have lots of different family members. And I really have enjoyed it all, I mean, I, you know, it's-- occasionally you'll have a piece of work that's a hundred years old. We've got an old charcoal bag from Horton Plantation with a frame. I mean it was-- it had, you know, a depiction of a family and it was their charcoal that they sold, I suppose, I don't know. It's probably-- it's artifacts, really. There have been some very unusual things that have come in. People will keep on their walls and it'll be a hundred years plus and maybe, you know, in 50 the years they'll pass it on, so that was just--

Jones: It's a part of history.

Byerley: Yeah, it's just a variety of stuff.

Jones: And that's what we're all about here, to learn. Well, you've given us a great deal of information, Brenda, and I really thank you for your time.

Byerley: Well, you're welcome.

Jones: It's been fun and I've always enjoyed working with you and talking with you. Getting your ideas.

Byerley: Well, thank you.

Jones: All right.

[Tape skips: Enter Warren Tucker]

Jones: All right. We're here now talking to Mr. Warren Tucker in his digital lab and this is just part of a labyrinth of rooms where all kinds of wonderful things are happening that can go into frames. We talked to Brenda. We know one part of it so Mr. Tucker, I should say also he was associated with UNCW from approximately 1970 to '79 as an assistant professor and professor of English.

Tucker: Assistant professor of English.

Jones: Assistant professor of English? All right. And--

Tucker: If I were a professor I'd still be there.

Jones: Okay. And I understand, too, that you've owned this business for about 30 years, is that it?

Tucker: Just about 30 years.

Jones: About 30 years. All right, you've got some very interesting things to tell us. I'm sure the general public has no idea what can go on in the lab part, the workings of a place that sells frames on the outside. Tell us about your digitizing, about reproductions, about color enhancement and all those sorts of things. Anything that goes into a frame.

Tucker: Well, the digital lab has-- only tangentially related to picture framing. We got into it about five or six years ago when there was a revolution in imaging. And we saw it on Art Expo, probably ten years ago, reproductions that were called giclées and they were done with high-quality inkjet printers. Actually, they were done with an Iris printer.

Jones: With a what?

Tucker: An Iris printer, I-R-I-S. And it was originally an inkjet printer that was devised for the printing industry to use as a proofer. And it was a very versatile printer and it could mimic any sort of printing press you wanted it to mimic. So rather-- if you had to send an advertising client, a proofer there, advertisement of what it would look like in a magazine. It could mimic the press of the magazine and the client would have a pretty good idea of what his advertisement was going to look like. But several photographers got interested in this and on-- they said, you know, "If it can mimic any kind of printing press, it can put out high-quality prints." And they started-- and computers were not that powerful as they are today. But they started manipulating their images in computers and printing them on Iris printing presses. And from that point, you know, the art community said, "Well, why don't we just reproduce our art this way?" Anybody even vaguely familiar with offset reproductions and offset lithography knows that the color gamut of an offset, a four-color offset lithography press is very limited. So that you could take a work of art and put it beside the reproduction, no matter how good the reproduction, there'd be huge differences in the way the colors looked. But that wasn't the case with the Iris printers. They were pretty much the same. The Iris printer had a color gamut about 70 percent of what, you know, what human beings think they can see. And certainly 70 percent of what artists were using in their art work. The Iris printer, because it was designed to print proofs, used dye inks and the dye inks proved to be extremely fugitive and it was a very finicky printer also. It printed on a drum and it printed continuously so the ink was continuously coming out of the nozzle. And it never stopped. And you can imagine having to modulate this continuous stream of ink was extraordinarily difficult. And maintaining the presses, you know, the Iris printers, was extraordinarily difficult. An Iris printer at the time, say, ten years ago or eleven years ago, it probably cost $80,000. The maintenance contract on it, which was essential, was probably $30,000 a year, you know. And from what I can gather, you know, from people who were running these things, they probably ran four hours a day producing and then four or five hours a day in addition to that in maintenance on them. So the prints were extraordinarily expensive that came out of them.

Jones: Now this was with the Iris printer.

Tucker: Just the Iris printer. Just the beginning of the giclée printing. That was one problem with it. It made the giclées very expensive but they were very faithful reproductions of the original art. And people wanted them. The real problem was the fugitive inks, the dyes, you know. They started fading in 80 or 90 days and after two or three years, the image was virtually all cyan, you know, the least fugitive of all the colors. And that-- and then desktop printers, you know, inkjet printers came out and they replaced-- I mean, they were able in black and white to produce type that looked like it was typeset. And-- well, you remember that, don't you? The first desktop printer? You were just amazed at how crisp and clear compared to a dot matrix printer which was the predecessor. But the blacks were fine, you know. They could-- those dyes are not fugitive because they don't have any, you know, they were all colors but-- they're not fugitive. And besides business letters are temporary anyway, you know. But then people started printing color on these inkjet printers and some of them got very good, say about seven or eight years ago, at reproducing photographs. But, again, the problem was the dyes were fugitive and these, I think the early Epson printers you could actually notice fading in 90 days, you know. And so people were very disappointed. The same thing is true of color photography up until the end of the chemical era. A lot of fine photographs were made in color photography and the photographers little realized how fugitive the photographs were going to be. So 60 years, 70 years is the lifespan and a lot of photographers bemoan the fact that in another 10 or 15 years, all the great color photography that was produced in the 20th century is going to be gone unless somebody, you know, makes some effort to reproduce it. And I guess efforts are being made, I don't know. But as things progressed, up-- about five years ago, there was a huge development. Epson, a division of Seiko, the old watch company, a Japanese company, was working on inkjet printers that would use pigment inks. And the breakthrough was that printer right over there which is-- yeah, that's a legacy printer. It's virtually useless now. But five years ago it was a breakthrough. It used archival quality inks and the prints it made would last 200 years with--

Jones: And what was the name that you gave me that they developed-- Seiko?

Tucker: The-- well, I didn't tell you what they developed. Their division, Epson developed, actually developed a print head and if you really want to know, it's a piece of electric print head that could modulate not a steady stream of ink. But little droplets of ink that would come out, you know, and it could produce the droplets of ink. And that was-- and the droplets were very small. Much smaller than the screen process, you know, the screen in an offset lithography plate. And it was called the Epson 10000 and that's where Tony and I got interested in it again because we weren't going to buy an Iris printer. And especially we couldn't afford-- if we could afford to buy the printer, we couldn't afford the maintenance contract, you know. And so to us it was just a dream. Within this company we have a computer numerically controlled mat cutter for our picture-framing business and it's produced by a company called Wizard International. And Wizard International had this great idea that you could buy Epson 10000 printers and you could put a piece of white mat board in it and color anything you wanted to. They didn't think of how much the ink costs. And I thought it was a great idea, too, 'cause if-- I can go show you our mat board storage is-- it's probably eight feet-- no, it's twelve feet tall and thirty-two feet long. Maybe even longer than that. Just to store the bare minimum of the different mat colors we needed. If you could print them on to mat it would be outstanding. You wouldn't even have to print a whole sheet of mat board. You'd just print the size that the mat was going to come out of. And I was really interested in that. Then we found out that it would print letters on the mats. And, again, little realizing, I mean, I grew up in a family of-- in advertising. I knew something about printing but not nearly enough. And it never occurred to me that you can only print on one board, you know. You can't print-- because, you know, the image we see this printed is the result of light reflecting off of a white surface being filtered by the inks that are on top of it. And so we could either print-- put words on white mat board but not on any colored mat boards. And we could color mat boards but the ink-- the cost of the ink would be extraordinarily expensive and so that was impractical, too. But I impulsively jumped ahead and bought the printer and I also thought that we could reproduce works of art and we could print them right there, you know. Instead of having an inventory of posters that people want to buy, we would just print them on demand, save a lot of money.

Jones: And how long ago was this?

Tucker: Just five years ago.

Jones: Really?

Tucker: It was, you know, great ideas on-- none of the Wizard stuff ever worked. It was way too difficult to print on it. And the business plan of Epson was to sort of lease the printers anyway. And they had a low down payment, I think it was $10,000, but you made the lease payments when you bought the ink. And that's true of all inkjet printers today. You go to Office Depot and you buy an inkjet-- you're just really making a down payment on it. And you make your payments when you buy the ink for it. That's a reasonable business model. But not for printing mat board. It's much cheaper to buy a sheet of mat board than it was to color one. The idea of reproducing art was really great. I have this friend in Nashville, Tennessee who was a principal on Chromatics and that was a huge photo lab. And they were just getting into-- they had-- reproducing photographs and art. And they had this thing called a derslanda [ph?]. It took up two rooms and it was a photographic process and it-- a laser beam exposed a large piece of photographic paper. And then that was developed traditionally and they had to have a way of capturing the images. And they started off with film and then scanning the film with a digital scanner. But they eventually bought this thing called a CRU scanner, extraordinarily expensive. And so was a derslanda for that matter. And so I thought I would send them the art that people wanted reproduced. They would scan it, send it back to us and then we could print it on our $10,000 printer. And it was a great idea. But the more we looked into it, 'cause we knew nothing about it, but the more we looked into it the more we realized that wasn't going to work and that if we wanted to do it, we had to have a CRU scanner. So we bought one. Enormous expense. And they're about-- I think now there are probably 25 CRU scanners in the country, large format scanners.

Jones: That's all?

Tucker: That's all. Oh, that's-- you wouldn't believe if I told you how much they cost.

Jones: No, I'm sitting on a chair that I'm very comfortable with. I don't want to fall off.

Tucker: Yeah, well, actually it's not that expensive. But they are really expensive. You have to make a definite commitment if you're going to buy one. And three of the ones that I know of are in universities. The one that I'm most familiar with is at Bowling Green University. And libraries use them for reproducing books with a much, very small version of the CRU scanners. And with the CRU scanner, we were able to scan art directly. Directly to digital and print it relatively quickly. The alternative would be, again, photography and I'm not a photographer. I know nothing about it. And I'd have to learn a lot to do that especially about lighting. And then taking the photograph and scanning the photograph and then printing from that. But when we bought the CRU scanner and the Epson printer, we started going at this digital reproduction in a serious way. And so since then there've been at least three evolutions in the, you know, with printing. The original Epson 10000 had a very limited color gamut. It only had one black ink. It was-- it had-- but it was much more sophisticated than a four-color offset press 'cause it had cyan, magenta, yellow, light cyan, light magenta, black ink. So it was-- let's see, four-- six-color printer. But only one black ink and that was the problem. And the problem was because of the nature of the ink; it was composed of pigments. And pigments actually have some substance. They're not nearly as flat and smooth as dye. And the problem emerged was metamerism. The image would look one color under a fluorescent light, an entirely different color outside. And a third color if you looked at it under incandescent light and then a myriad of colors in between as those lights merged and varied. And so you never really could be sure what color the thing was. I mean, the colors were close. But a discerning person would notice that the colors were shifting constantly with the light. Epson worked on that and Epson at the time was the only company working in-- now the original Iris printer cost $80,000. The Epson printer which was as good if not better, was 10,000. It was dead reliable. I mean, you have that-- out of a year's service, it might be out of service for a couple of days, you know. And very easy to maintain. It was just a huge revolution. But Epson continued working on it. They came out with their 9600 and their-- much smaller printer because Epson's making them cheaper now 'cause it costs too much money to ship the 10000's. And there was another evolution to the 9800 and now the evolution is to the Epson 8800. And Hewlett Packard and Canon have jumped into the thing and we have a Canon which is the latest in the evolutionary process. And it has 12 inks. It has, again, the cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow and let's see-- it has-- and revolutionarily, it has red, green and blue inks as well as three different color--

Jones: This is the Canon?

Tucker: Yeah.

Jones: The Canon people.

Tucker: Yep. It's, you know, in order to make green, you would have to use combinations of CMYK: cyan, magenta and yellow.

Jones: Do you have one of those?

Tucker: Oh, yeah, it's right over there. We have a-- the shop is configured now for scanning lumber which is one of the things that pays for all of this.

Jones: I was going to ask you, you must do a lot of work to pay for these printers.

Tucker: Well, there're not that many of these scanners in the country so fortunately just about all of North Carolina-- we have clients as far as South-- Florida, Southern Florida. And as far as north as Washington, D.C. and I think we have some people in West Virginia. And they ship the art to us. We scan it. Make a C.D. and ship the art back to them.

Jones: That's how you do it, make a C.D.?

Tucker: Yep. And then they-- they have printers that they can reproduce-- in fact, most artists, you know, that I know of are producing their own art. It's difficult they found but they're learning how to do it.

Jones: See this is something that only a small segment of the population, people like you who are in the business would know about. You go in and you buy a print from a well known artist and they've got a number on it. And it's signed, you think, "Oh, wow." And never stop to think, how'd it get there?

Tucker: Yeah. And chances are, if it were-- if it isn't a stone lithograph or a giclée, it's probably printed with dye inks on a four-color offset printing press and it's going to start fading in eight or ten years, you know. Which is fine. I mean, most people are tired of decorative art in eight or ten years anyway. I mean, I know I am. I don't have any of the art in my house ten years ago now that I had ten years ago except for the originals. And some of those, my wife is tired of so--

Jones: Yeah, I got a few up in the attic.

Tucker: Yeah, we have a lot in the attic.

Jones: I mean, they're originals, though, you know, but--

Tucker: In closets and everything else. This is, you know, people who live in Wilmington, artists, are very fortunate 'cause they can just drive by here, drop off a painting, have it scanned and pick up the C.D. If you lived in Charlotte or Raleigh or Columbia, South Carolina, we have a lot of clients in Columbia, you can't do that. And--

Jones: Let me ask you something. This is something that we find interesting and part of why this program started. And that is, you deal with the different end of it than Brenda, Cindy and all the rest. Why are there so many artists in this area? And growing?

Tucker: I don't think there. I mean, if you go--

Jones: You don't think so.

Tucker: I think it's probably about the same number of artists here as there are anywhere. I mean, I'm surprised at how many artists there are in Wallace. I mean, I do more business with artists in Wallace than with artists in Wilmington.

Jones: Really?

Tucker: Morehead City.

Jones: And Wallace?

Tucker: Yeah. Morehead City's a big-- and a lot of people--

Jones: Well, now Morehead City I could probably understand. But Wallace?

Tucker: Oh, no, the interior north of southeastern North Carolina is a hotbed of art. Whiteville, you know, a client-- there-- a couple of clients there. Yeah, and especially, you know, if you go to Charleston, you're overwhelmed, not only by the number--

Jones: Yeah, we were just there.

Tucker: The number of artists but the quality of them, you know.

Jones: Well, I was just going to say, I would love to go Charleston. I was just there for a long, long weekend recently. Just let's go this weekend and, yeah, every third corner has an artist.

Tucker: I really wish there were some good artists in Wilmington.

Jones: And--

Tucker: And wish there were more good artists in Wilmington that could sell their points.

Jones: I don't know. I just, you know, I think my kids could have done the same thing when they were third-year art students or something like that, in high school.

Tucker: Well, I have no artistic ability at all. I know I can't do it, you know. But, yeah, our most successful artists, the ones who sell a lot are not from Wilmington. I can't think of one Wilmington artist who does well. Well, I mean--

Jones: Really?

Tucker: That we know of. I'm sure that--

Jones: Are you speaking about "does well," you mean commercially on a national basis.

Tucker: Commercial. No, commercially period. You know, like earning a living at it.

Jones: From earning a living.

Tucker: But I know a lot of artists who earn a living and-- who are very commercially successful. But I don't know many in Wilmington. Ivey Hayes maybe. But he's--

Jones: I'm going to be interviewing Ivey on Friday.

Tucker: Yeah, he's probably the most hardworking. And he's evolving, you know, he's starting to do his own printing. Up until probably a year ago he had other people do it for him.

Jones: Okay, so you do a lot of his work.

Tucker: We do all the imaging.

Jones: All the imaging, okay. He's been difficult to get to interview. He's--

Tucker: He probably wants to be paid for it. (laughs)

Jones: Well--

Tucker: I mean, he is trying to make a living as an artist.

Jones: I can understand that, yeah. I can understand that. Well, that's interesting. But please continue.

Tucker: That's it. I mean, that's-- I could talk about--

Jones: I'm totally-- we've got five minutes left so let's fill it. What do you like to do best? Do you like to scan the artwork? Do you like to do old photographs and bring them to life? From a personal point--

Tucker: What I like to do best is to print, you know.

Jones: To print.

Tucker: Make beautiful prints. And our equipment can do it. And, you know, it's stunning. Two or three years ago artists were very contemptuous of giclées because they were so good. They thought that-- I suppose they thought they would displace original art. They're indistinguishable.

Jones: Explain giclée for the novice who-- and I-- the first time I heard that term was maybe a year ago when Ann Nouveau Perkins had a print that-- she had the original Claude Howell had done of the house she grew up at the church.

Tucker: Yeah, I restored that, yeah.

Jones: And she told me that. And she said, "And I'm doing everything in giclée, you know?" No, I didn't but I didn't confess so-- at that time and-- until I found out about it. So explain a little bit the process and--

Tucker: It's simply, you know, it's a reproduction not a print. A reproduction made on a high-quality, inkjet printer using archival inks, printed on archival paper. So you can expect the image to last at least a hundred years without fade-- without noticeable fading. And probably two or three hundreds year without it being, you know, the fading being, you know, a problem.

Jones: Is it expensive to do?

Tucker: Not as expensive as it used to be. The most expensive part of it is capturing the image. And that's really difficult. A typical, say, a 30 by 40 image, if it's going to-- if it's at 300 pixels per inch, which is the benchmark for really high quality reproduction that's a file it's something like 475 megabytes. That's-- if you divide 475 by 3, you'll find out how many megapixels there are in it because there are 3 bytes in each pixel. So, I mean, it's a-- it would be a camera-- if you say you're going to take a picture that's a work of art with a camera, it would have to be a camera that was, say, 120 megapixel camera which doesn't exist. And so the only way you can do is the scanners. And large format scanners are expensive.

Jones: And you do all the azalea festival prints, is that it?

Tucker: We don't print them. We just do the imaging.

Jones: You do the imaging. What's the difference?

Tucker: The imaging is capturing the image and the prepress work, you know. Making the colors, correcting the colors. We do a lot-- probably half of my income is prepress work, color corrections 'cause every-- no camera sees colors the same way the human eyes sees them. In fact, no two human beings see color the same way. But we're close. So just about every image if it's going to be an accurate reproduction has to be color corrected. And we do that.

Jones: Now I'll tell you something. I've-- I don't know how many people I've interviewed. I'm talking about artists and art related. This is one of the most fascinating things I've heard in all of them because it's something that we don't know about.

Tucker: You ought to hear about--

Jones: And that's what we're here to do.

Tucker: You ought to hear about us in the picture framing industry, you know. We were like the cutting edge in Wilmington and--

Jones: Oh, I know that personally 'cause I bring all my-- that's how I happened to come here, bring all my stuff here.

Tucker: It's been virtually revolutionized. It's taken us probably 30 years to solve all the problems that we encountered 30 years ago when we first opened our store, you know. But, again, Wilmington is unique in having the scanner but it's unique in having us. You can go into 90 percent-- well, you just have to be on-- you can go to 90 percent of the picture frame shops in the country and they'll be so radically different from this one. Say 95 percent, really. I think probably 5 percent of the people are like we are. The rest are based on a business model that is just, you know, I think highly inefficient. And people say picture framing is too expensive. It is too expensive. It's outrageously expensive as a matter of fact if you go to one of those 95 percent shops.

Jones: We're going to have to call it quits right here. We've run out of time. Run out of tape. I thank you so much for giving us this time. And don't ever say you don't know anything or you don't know what we want, you don't know why we want to talk to you.

Tucker: I didn't know you wanted to talk about digital imaging. I thought--

Jones: Well, it's part of the industry. Part of the-- thank you so much, Mr. Tucker.

Tucker: Yeah, we're the only digital imaging that-- there's one guy, a buddy of mine, what's his name. Josh McClure, who would be conceivably do the same thing we do. But I do a lot of work for him so--

Jones: Okay. We're through.

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