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Family full of framers puts treasures on display

Published 10:47 am Monday, February 4, 2013

Lisa Dunavent had a special framing job to do one rainy afternoon last week.

Through the back door of Jessies Art Gallery & Custom Framing walked 9-year-old Charlie Lantz, his dad, Chase Lantz, and their Yorkie, Romeo.

Charlie was there to pick up his order, a framed photo of Romeo he planned to hang at Buddys Pizza, where the walls are covered with canines.

He chose an ornate golden frame and a burgundy, velour-textured mat, despite many attempts by Dunavent a friend of the family to talk him into something subtler.

Hes the golden dog, Charlie said, as Romeo spun around on his hind legs for saltine crackers.

Like so many customers before him, Charlie walked out happy, clinging to a brown paper bag with his framed photo inside.

Dunavent estimates 90 percent of business comes from custom framing, from the typical posters, prints and family photos to the tiny taxidermy snake sitting on the table last week, waiting for a frame.

It starts when somebody walks in with something they want framed, she said.

And what customers walk through the door with might surprise you.

Jessies has framed a fiddle, eyeglasses, jewelry, hockey sticks and golf clubs, and a dead moth that, as it turns out, was still alive.

It moved, Dunavent said. I turned around to measure something, and when I looked back it had moved it started flying around! It was alive still!

A customer once walked in with a set of scrip from a former coal town, and another, a toilet paper roll from Lithuania. Dunavent is currently working on a shadow box that will contain an antique baseball glove and ball.

Former Frankfort Mayor Gippy Graham requested the shop frame a doorjamb, marked with the heights of his family members, salvaged from a relatives house. That landed Jessies a feature in a trade magazine.

But more often the shops staff frames things like handmade needlework, christening dresses and shadow boxes for military veterans and Kentucky State Police retirees. They also work frequently with local artists.

Most framing jobs are complete within two weeks, but the shop also offers next-day pickup if customers choose from frames already in stock.

Weve watched a lot of families grow up through portraits and photographs, Dunavent said.

Dunavents parents, Pete and Jessie Tropoulos, bought the framing shop then called Janies in 1988.

Pete Tropoulos had always enjoyed woodworking as a hobby, and when a coworker at Rand McNally in Versailles told him the framing shop was for sale, the couple decided to buy it.

They plan to step back from the business in the coming months, and Dunavent is set to take the reins. She left her job at State National Bank (now Whitaker Bank) when her parents told her they needed help.

It kind of intrigued me sparked my interest, she said.

That was 22 years ago. Now she manages the shop, though she doesnt like the official title of manager. Debbie Hull and Melissa Zeigler round out the staff.

She doesnt give herself enough credit, but she knows what shes doing, and she brings a lot to the table, Jessie Tropoulos said of her daughter.

She has new and fresh ideas. Were just lucky to have her.

Since opening the shop 25 years ago, the Tropoulos family has watched many changes take place.

The shop used to be located on the other side of Fountain Place next to a card and gift shop. They tripled their space when they moved around the corner.

Many of the steps in the framing process that were done by hand are now computerized. Instead of measuring and cutting a mat for hours, Lisa can enter a few numbers in a computer, put everything in the right place and press the start button.

Theres a machine that slices through glass and an underpinner that holds frames together with barely visible metal pins instead of traditional glue and nails.

When we started, we never would have imagined having a computerized mat cutter, Pete said. You did everything by hand, and some would take hours to cut. But this thing here, it can do it in minutes.

But they still keep the old tools handy even if they just use them to store boxes on top.

Jessie realizes that the next big change wont be in technology, but a personal one, as she and her husband leave the business theyve run for decades.

We just have such a wonderful clientele, and well miss that, but its just kind of reached a point where we need to slow down, Jessie Tropoulos said.

I just hope our clientele will give Lisa the support theyve given us in the past and I think they will.

Jessies Art Gallery & Custom Framing

Address: 39 Fountain Place

Phone: 502-227-2495

Email: jessiesart@aol.com