Circus Artwork Wins International Award

Circus Artwork Wins International Award

Applegate Gallery owner creates whimsical piece for picture-framing competition.

Sara Applegate won first prize for her framed circus piece at an international competition in January.

Sara Applegate won first prize for her framed circus piece at an international competition in January. Photo by Donna Manz.

Sara Applegate, whose framing and art gallery sits on Church Street, won an international competition in late January for a framed artpiece. To call Applegate’s interpretation a “frame,” is akin to calling a Ferrari just a car. The piece, whimsical yet complex, features five three-dimensional circus vignettes. The individual components are mostly vintage lead collector pieces.

“Once I found those, I fell completely in love,” said Applegate, who picked up several character pieces at the Frederick Antique Emporium. Two pieces were created in 1948 by Britains, a lead soldier manufacturer that produced a circus collection series. The remaining three vignettes were produced by the same company in 1998. Applegate bought those on E-Bay.

Her fanciful design and creation is multi-media, with hand-wrapped fabric on individual pieces of matboard, and the highest grade of acrylic covering the finished piece. The zig-zag frame, boxing the matted vignettes, is of compressed wood made by an outside supplier according to Applegate’s computer-designed template.


This box-framed piece holds the dress the flower girl wore to Sara and Scott Applegate’s wedding.

THE COMPETITION, sponsored by the Professional Picture Framing Association, was held in Las Vegas from Jan. 25-30. Applegate won the regional competition, hosted by the National Capital Chaper of the framing association, in late fall. Pieces at the Las Vegas finals were not identified for judging. Applegate entered her framed piece in the “open” category.

The mother of two young children, Applegate owned her first custom-framing shop in Oakton for 4-1/2 years. Her gallery on Church Street has been open for 4-1/2 years, as well. Applegate described her gallery as a “custom-frame shop that also features the works of local artists.” Her own finished personalized box frames hang among the works of dozens of Northern Virginia artists.

Many of Applegate’s framed pieces are works of art themselves. She frames traditional art and non-traditional art, such as mementos from weddings. A little girl, a toddler, is immortalized there, her photo at 18 months old snuggling in a corner of the box framing. She’s wearing a fancy scarlet dress, the same dress preserved in the glass frame holding the photo. The toddler in the photo wore that dress, handcrafted by Sara Applegate’s mother, to Sara and Scott Applegate’s wedding in 2006. The toddler had just learned to walk, and walk down the aisle she did as the Applegates’ flower girl. The framed memento hangs high on the gallery wall.

APPLEGATE estimated she spent about 40 hours designing and making the circus piece. A lot of that time, she said, was spent cutting the designs and making adjustments. Her mat machine is hooked up to her computer. From there, she programs shapes into the computer, “telling” it where to cut. Her award-winning frame is saved on the computer.

If a customer would like to have Applegate create a replica of her winning framed art, she’s happy to do so. What she won’t do, however, is sell her winning original entry. “Oh, no,” Applegate said. “This is my pride and joy.”

Applegate Gallery and Custom Framing is at 101 Church Street, Suite C, on the upper level. For further details on Sara’s services, visit or call 703-281-1364. Her e-mail address is