has helped the Federal Government’s coinmaker turn money
As a custom framer in Washington, D.C.,
Claudia was part of a framing team that created an
elaborate display of coins for the U.S. Mint. The shop in
which she works also counts the White House and the
Smithsonian Institution among its customers. "We do a
lot of jobs for organizations and Government, mostly
framing objects and presentation pieces," says
Everyday customers needn’t have high-profile projects, though. Framers like Claudia put baby
slippers, sports jerseys, antiques, and other personal
keepsakes on display. More typical items include
paintings, photos, and certificates. But whatever the
object being preserved, the outcome is the same. "We
help to make things look good," says Claudia.
Claudia’s work starts with a customer
consultation. She helps customers select glass or
Plexiglas; the molding or frame; and, if they want, a mat
to surround the item.
Spending a few minutes to an hour or more
with customers, Claudia talks to them about their options,
shows them samples, and explains costs. "If people
are having trouble deciding what they want," says
Claudia, "I start by asking how things are framed in
their house: Do they have black frames? Gold frames? Then,
I’ll ask how they decorate: Do they prefer traditional
or contemporary? These types of questions really help to
narrow down the look that they want to create."
To further help her customers decide,
Claudia might hold corner samples of frames up to the
item. "You’re watching their reactions," she
says. "They might say something like, ‘That won’t
do,’ or ‘Wow, I like silver!’"
Some framers now use computer software to
create an image of how a finished product might look. But
the projects that Claudia and her colleagues work on are
so customized—involving nonstandard materials such as
silk or linen, for example—that the technology wouldn’t
be of much use.
In addition to getting the perfect look,
function is a consideration. One challenge to framing,
says Claudia, is ensuring that the weight of the item will
be supported when it is hung on a wall. Large or heavy
items may require thicker molding, special backing, and
sturdier wire to hang securely.
Preserving the item might be another
concern. To protect items from light or to reduce glare,
framers can use certain types of glass; to prevent damage,
they often recommend acid-free mats.
Many framers cut mats, and some even
assemble the frames themselves. To finish the work, the
framer carefully cleans the plastic or glass, often using
a special tool or vacuum to make sure that dust and other
particles don’t get inside. He or she then arranges the
item or items to be framed, along with any matting being
used, and inspects the piece one more time to check for
imperfections. Finally, the framer attaches a backing and hanging fixtures to complete the job.
Sometimes, a customer requests a type of
material that isn’t in stock. In those cases, it’s
often up to the framer to gauge how much of the material
to purchase. Other tasks might include computer entry of
project details, such as cost estimates and customer
communication; setting up displays; and keeping the shop
clean and neat.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
doesn’t collect data on framers. But according to the
Professional Picture Framers Association, there are about
12,000 retail frame shops nationwide. And the occupation
is relatively easy to enter because, like most retail
sales jobs, custom framing does not have rigid educational
or training requirements.
Many of these workers’ tasks are
comparable to those of retail salesworkers, who earned a
median hourly wage of $9.20 in May 2005, according to BLS.
But the work of framers is somewhat more specialized,
which may lead to higher earnings. For example, industry
sources suggest that workers who do advanced or
museum-quality framing often earn more than others in the
field. Supervisors and managers of these workers earn
more, too. And owning a shop can mean more sporadic—but
Claudia and other framers are on their
feet most of the day, and they interact with people a lot.
"It takes an outgoing personality," Claudia says
of her job. Having good listening skills, an artistic eye,
and patience also come in handy.
Most custom framers learn on the job. Many
have a degree in art, although they are not required to
have one. "It’s a good job for someone just out of
art school," says Claudia, "or for people who
are retired and want to do something creative in their
Framing can be ideal for almost anyone who
has an interest in art or who wants to work in an artistic
environment. "It’s a lot of fun," Claudia
says. "We deal with some really special pieces."
Many expensive items pass through a framer’s
hands, but inexpensive ones are often just as valuable.
"People come in with things that have been painted by
family members, or something they got from a street artist
for $10," says Claudia. "Some of it’s really
The range of quality may vary, but all the items that
Claudia deals with are important in someone’s eyes.
"You’d be surprised at the treasures people bring
in," Claudia says. And with her help, those treasures
are protected for years to come.