A Creative Instinct: Monroe Street Framing Strives to Take Artistic Chances for its Customers

showroom
Photo by Eric Tadsen

It started with a one- by one-half-inch newspaper ad in 1998 that read “Experienced Picture Framer Wanted.” No store name. No address. Just the phone number. Michelle Waldeck came across the ad for a part-time picture framer at Monroe Street Framing. “I took out the yellow pages and looked up the address,” Michelle says, who has owned the shop since 2007. “They thought I was too young, but I was persistent.”

Monroe Street Framing was founded in 1983 by Dave Gunderson at 2616 Monroe Street. After five years, the shop grew and moved to its current location at 1901 Monroe Street, a historic building previously home to doctors’ offices and a World War II bomb shelter. Michelle credits Dave, her former boss and business partner, with creating a great local business on which Monroe Street Framing could continue to build and grow. “I was shy when I started, but he encouraged me to trust in myself,” she says. “He was a great mentor.”

When it comes to her business plan, Michelle reflects on what Dave taught her about instinct. “Dave is so good with customers and framing, and he goes with his gut,” she says.

Monroe Street Framing continues to provide framing services to commercial and residential clients and local organizations, such as Chazen Museum of Art, Epic Systems, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Duluth Trading Co., and Wisconsin State Historical Society. “We are proud to say we have always been, and always will be, locally owned and owner operated,” the shop’s website reads.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Today, Monroe Street Framing houses a staff of six. With minimal room for storage, products and frames are kept out in the open. You can walk through the store to shop the vast variety of frame textures and styles. Organization and tidiness are key for the staff. “All our work is done on the premises, and there is no back workroom—it’s all right there for our customers to see,” Michelle says. “That is part of the fun for us. Customers can see every step of the process and ask questions if they see us working on something. We love what we do, so we also love it when people are curious and want to be informed framing consumers.

“We take pride in offering services that are above and beyond what other frames shops might offer. Attention to detail, craftsmanship, and customer service are all extremely important to us.” Services include conservation framing, custom design, gilding, restoration, photo printing, delivery, and installation.

Hand-crafted custom molding lines include their popular barnwood line, sourced from Argyle, Wisconsin, which is then hand-finished in the woodshop in the building’s basement. Along with barnwood, Monroe Street Framing also offers frames in welded steel, hand-tooled leather, gold leaf, acrylic, and local hardwoods.

“Custom picture framers are truly artists and skilled craftsmen,” Michelle says. “We look for ways to invent new things to frame and techniques to try.” Monroe Street Framing maintains a large selection by continuously searching for new suppliers and framing companies to work with.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

While most customers prefer to browse the colors and materials inside the shop, Michelle says there are some customers who rarely step foot through the front door. Some corporate customers find it easier to have art picked up, framed, delivered, and installed. “We’ve done it for decades,” Michelle says. Within the last year, Monroe Street Framing has purchased a van ready with a team dedicated strictly to delivery and installation. The delivery range isn’t just Dane County. From Janesville to Green Bay, Monroe Street Framing will deliver and install across the Midwest.

While you might expect some of the framing services previously mentioned, what’s being framed may catch you off guard. “We frame unusual things sometimes,” Michelle says. One example is a doctor who wanted a visual teaching tool. So, he had a collection of kidney stones framed.

“The best things we frame are the sentimental pieces—the ones that have a story and connection to them,” Michelle says. Framing children’s artwork is something she truly enjoys. Another favorite is when a father had the dress framed his daughter wore while dancing in The Nutcracker. It brought back memories from when she danced in the same production as a young girl.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Looking back over the years, Michelle says she has learned to look for opportunities where she wouldn’t expect them. Born and raised in Dane County, she received her bachelor’s in art therapy from Edgewood College in Madison and her master’s in art therapy from Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. Her emphasis was on children with behavioral disorders. Michelle also volunteered at American Family Children’s Hospital and Meriter Retirement Center. “I had a great art teacher in high school,” she says. “He was the one who handed me a brochure about Edgewood College’s art therapy program.”

But as Dave taught her, she went with her gut. “I was scared to do this job. I never expected I would be a business owner. Ever. You might think, ‘I’m supposed to be an artist,’ but there are a lot of ways to be an artist.”

And as the Monroe Street construction begins in March 2018, Michelle hopes things will be business as usual until it ends in November 2018. During that time, Monroe Street Framing will offer free pick-up and delivery service. The team will even deliver samples for on-site framing consultations. The on-site parking lot also will remain open to customers during the road construction.

Whatever framing service the customer needs, Michelle is certain Monroe Street Framing can provide a solution. “Challenge us. We love to think outside the box and come up with solutions that work best for our customers’ needs.”

Chelsey Dequaine works as director of social media strategy for designCraft Advertising and is a freelance writer.