If the Frame Fits…
Jeff Dion is keeping local art alive and raising our frame consciousness, too.
Written by Constance Dunn
Photography by Paul Jonason
“It’s kind of like buying a custom suit,” says Jeff Dion, standing behind a colorful wall of frames at Dion Gallery, which is part art gallery, part custom framing studio. We’re discussing the difference between off-the-rack and bespoke framing. “Basically, a custom frame is handmade from scratch,” he tells me. “Which means you’re going to end up with a one-of-a-kind product that’s built for a particular piece.”
His store is a visually pleasant fixture along Catalina Avenue in Riviera Village, with high walls populated by creamy seascape oil paintings, vivid Hawaiian prints and delightful renderings of familiar beach scenes, like the pool at Palos Verdes Beach & Athletic Club, a lone lifeguard tower and the Millie Riera’s Seafood Grotto sign. “You can get an original piece of artwork here for a couple of hundred dollars,” says Dion. “But you can also spend a few thousand. I want to offer a local place where people can go and see the works of South Bay artists up close and in person. My goal is to keep that tradition alive and exciting.”
Dion’s path to gallery owner and framer began while studying art and design at Santa Monica College in the early 1980s. “I started working for this framer who was basically working out of his grandmother’s garage,” he recalls. “I had to quit because I was going to school full time, but I told him, ‘If you ever open an art gallery, I’d love to run it.’” Months later he heard from his former boss, who had just opened a gallery and framing shop in the El Porto section of Manhattan Beach. Dion managed the place before buying it, opening up a couple more locations, then scaling back in the late 1990s to his current spot.
It’s here where he features original local artwork, along with rare and vintage prints—there are few works he can’t hunt down, no matter how obscure. This, plus custom framing done with a well-seasoned eye for pragmatism and aesthetics. “More than fifty percent of my job with custom framing is education,” says Jeff Dion. “How to preserve a piece. The difference between archival and non-archival materials. I have eight different types of glass, and each serves a different function. I like to educate people on what they need and what they don’t. What is economical and what is not.”
Dion’s creative assessment drills down to asking customers about the look and atmosphere of the room where the framed item will be displayed. Clients can describe or bring in a photo of the space if they like, though Dion points out that items can always be framed in a relatively neutral way, which is an ideal route to take when gifting a piece.
Next comes the selection of the frame and its accouterments, including the type and texture of matting and mounting materials—a step Dion simplifies by offering inspired combinations to customers. His counsel is golden, particularly since the number and types of frames he stocks are dizzying, from those constructed with exotic fabrics and woods (palm wood is a current favorite) to frames decorated with intricate Italian inlays or playful patterns, like musical notes and four-leaf clovers. To point, Dion framed a favorite vintage yachting print with a thick wood frame tinged with burnished gold at the edges, an improbable combination that looks just right. And though he operates a boutique-like studio, Dion often speeds past framing chain stores when it comes to delivery time and cost.
In the end, it stands to reason that if an image or piece of art has earned a place in your world, it also deserves a suitable frame. And a tip? Cover all of those beloved works with UV glass, cautions Dion. It will keep them buffered from the elements, and forever fresh.
1907½ S. Catalina Avenue
Redondo Beach, CA 90277