Kim Poarch is the lone frame gilder in this area, he says. His frames are hand-crafted, each specifically designed for the painting it will showcase.
Raised in Hereford with four other brothers, Kim’s father, a skilled builder and carpenter, influenced Kim’s ability as a craftsman. His father’s motto, “Measure twice and cut once,” is a mantra Kim has followed throughout his career. Kim recalls his father taking at least 90 days to build a secure home; but today, a house can pop up in a mere 30 days, a pattern Kim recognizes in his line of work. Kim has been able to find a niche market for art collectors nationwide by sustaining the longstanding craft of frame design that people have overlooked as a result of mass-produced, pre-fabricated frames found in retail outlets. He has been making hand-crafted frames on and off since he was 16 years old, but has only committed to it full-time in the past four years.
“Framing and gilding is kind of getting to be, I guess we’re getting to be dinosaurs,” Kim says, shrugging. “With this age, you can go to a frame shop and get moldings already finished and wait for them to get here. Truly hand-crafted frames that are put together after they’ve been finished and assembled are hard to find.”
Tabernacle frames are the Canyon resident’s forte, the architectural designs of classic Greek and Roman structures having entranced him early on. He works alone in his unassuming, tan workshop alongside his brick home. He enjoys the solidarity of framing, a job that requires patience and persistence. Fragile, compo ornamentations and feather-light fluting blend in among the heavy machinery and sharp tools. Organized heaps of smooth strips of blond poplar await transformation into the one-of-a-kind frames in Kim’s “Chopper Shop.”
“I try to design every one of them different,” the Gallery at the Palace owner expounds. “Like an artist reproducing the same painting, three, four or fives times, it kind of defeats the purpose. I really want these frames to be a work of art in themselves so that’s where I choose not to reproduce a frame.”
As Kim leads me into the adjoining studio where he completes the framing process, he begins detailed the process of how he crafts his stunning frames. With a plastic drop cloth suspended above a corner of his studio, Kim tries to prevent the dirt and dust the “Panhandle air” carries from tainting his work. After sealing the raw, wooden frame with clear shellac, he paints it with eight to 10 coats of primer until it is perfectly smooth. Any imperfections, such as a speck of dust or flake of skin, will show because gold leaf is one-three-hundred-thousandths of an inch thick, he says, as I intently watch a glistening portion, which closely resembles the sheen of a golden ticket in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” dissipate as he rubs the material between his forefinger and thumb.
“It’s transparent,” he says, as he takes another piece of the leaf and holds it in front of the northern window of his studio to show off the gossamer translucency.
Kim claims he has never built the “perfect frame,” but that is all part of the fun of his job, that “quest for perfection.” His customers would likely disagree with his edict. A New Jersey collector of classical 19th and 20th-century paintings calls for Kim to design frames to complement works by acclaimed artists, such as Jules Lefebvre, William Bouguereau, or Hughes Merle, a task Kim does not take lightly. It was with this particular client that Kim was asked to sgraffito the frame, meaning taking a fine point and carefully scratching the gold off to reveal the base coat underneath. Not only was this the first time Kim had attempted sgraffito, but it was also the first frame he crafted for this client.
“I like to start with raw wood and end up with a beautiful frame,” he expresses as he flips through his portfolio. “I try to design every one of them different. It’s almost like a painting.”
One of Kim’s most recent endeavors involved designing a tabernacle frame adorned with four open books at each corner for the library of a client out of Dallas. The portrait was painted by fellow artist Steve Gjertson, who lives in Minnesota. Kim drew up an initial design and carved a model of the books from molding.
“That turned a few hairs gray I think,” Kim nervously chuckles. “I was on pins and needles.”
However, Kim doesn’t come off as a man whose nerves are rattled easily. As he prepares to gild a cured frame with a vintage gold leaf resembling the color of aluminum foil, Kim picks up a badger-hair brush and deftly swipes it over his silvery hair. The static electricity makes the leaf stick to the brush, he explains. Working from the inside out, he paints the gold leaf on the frame, dabbing it around the edges. Moments after carefully laying the leaf on the frame, the edges begin to tarnish, giving it a crackled, aged effect.
Kim then takes a makeup brush to tap the leaf, ever so gently smoothing it against the wood to form a second skin. Kim manipulates the appearance of the gold leaf by painting frames in various colors. A deep red underneath the same vintage leaf he is using over the gray paint will turn out golden rather the silver look of the frame he is working on.
Imperfections, cracks or breaks in the gold leaf make the frame special, he says, because they are never the same. “If someone came in right now and said I want this frame right here, I’m not going to do that,” Kim states. “It’s a one-of-a-kind frame.”
“A handcrafted frame is timeless. They aren’t fads. It’s not going in a garage sale next summer,” Kim says, as gold particles flutter through the air like dust before gracefully landing on his sleeve like a falling leaf. “I hope.”
To learn more about Kim and his work, please visit his website.
by Drew Belle Zerby
After graduating from LSU in 2009, Drew Belle worked as a page designer in north Louisiana until moving to Amarillo and joining AGN Media in late 2010. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel and spout out useless movie trivia.