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Knowing the Artist

Local framing shop and gallery bridges gap between artist and customer.

In the far corner of Vienna's Village Green Shopping Center, just a few doors down from the Vienna Arts Society Gallery, Mina Smith speaks with a customer in Art Masters, a custom framing shop and gallery, while the bustle from Maple Avenue seems a distant concern midst brightly colored paintings.

Established 32 years ago, Smith — who is the curator and director of the gallery — believes that Art Masters offers a chance to connect with each piece beyond personal aesthetic. By hosting a small handful of local and regional artists at the gallery, Smith says this gives the consumer a chance to understand the creative process involved in the work, as well as a chance to meet the artists who created the paintings, either through visits to the shop or at Art Masters' seasonal shows.

"Buying art from some artist you don't know doesn't mean anything," she said. "If you know them, it speaks to you."

"Our people are really some of the best in the area," she continued. "They work so beautifully and so creatively."

In addition to helping understand the making of a painting, the shop also works closely with both the artist and customer when framing these pieces. As Smith notes, the way a painting is framed can make or break the piece.

"There are two choices," she said. "Design to fit the house or to fit the art. Framing is really important — nothing kills the painting unless it is really framed wrong. You can either kill a painting or give it more life."

"Framing is an art all its own," she continued. "Its an extension of the art. You frame it to bring the art alive and dress the art up."

WALKING AROUND the gallery, the range in size and price varies drastically, from large paintings priced into the thousands to small prints for individuals on a budget. Smith is especially excited about a new addition to the gallery — the "Capture a Pose" service provided by fashion artist and illustrator Jan Watkins. For $75, Watkins can turn a family photo into an illustration, which Smith believes is an affordable price for families wanting to purchase original art.

"Watkins captures the pose and it puts a smile on your face," said Smith. "We try so hard to cling to our past and it's nice to have the memory right there." Other featured artists at the gallery include acrylic painter Armen Gyulamirian, watercolors by Mehrdad Isadi and a selection of Smith's work, who sold her first painting at the age of 9 and paints by the mantra "see it, simplify it, state it."

"The reason I paint is because of my children," said Smith. "They can tell what I was feeling by my brush strokes. It's a way of connecting with the past and with the present. To put feeling into a painting is a long journey."

Like any gallery, Smith noted that she tries to change the selection every few months.

"A gallery has to keep changing," she said. "But we don't get rid of the old work, we add to it."

Smith noted that Art Masters will present a Spring Show and Open House early next year, although the date is yet to be decided.

— Christopher Staten