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In Dan's hands

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Your art’s in safe hands with framer Daniel Metcalf, as Dan Poynton discovers.

Pieces of art have to be looked after. While the original artist’s creation is revered, desired, it is also lugged about and handled for purposes of display or sale, and needs special measures to keep it in good shape.

Photography by Connor Hill

Frames by Daniel is a small Auckland firm that specialises in transporting and presenting art, employing great care and a fair bit of that mythical Kiwi ingenuity to keep the taonga from harm.

‘We sort of throw ourselves at anything we’re asked about,’ says Daniel Metcalf, the versatile and pragmatic owner of Frames by Daniel. ‘If it’s reasonable we’ll tackle it.’

The Henderson-based company makes art-boards, stretchers, easels, plinths and boxes for freighting art to any specifications required. They also offer canvas stretching.

Daniel set up a furniture building business soon after leaving school. An art-student friend was working for him and also doing bits and pieces for the local art students, and when he left to do his OE, Daniel took over his work and the business grew from there. Frames by Daniel has been going 15 years now, but it remains an intimate outfit with just one other full-timer and a couple of part-timers.

This, and some original methods of working, has allowed Daniel to keep his costs down and focus on his customers’ needs, he says.

‘I just like to be fair,’ says Daniel. ‘Artists don’t have a lot of money to spend and I’m about half the price of my competitors.’

For example, after checking out different ways of constructing art-freight boxes, Daniel came up with his own construction methods that are less labour-intensive than normal. ‘By keeping my prices low I get artists who buy more than just one thing, so I don’t lose out that much,’ he says.

‘I’m quite a creative person so I enjoy the challenge of some of the special stuff we have to do,’ he says, listing art-gallery exhibition walls and even kitchens as some of Frame by Daniel’s peripheral projects.

Photography by Conor Hill

‘Quite often an artist will come to me with an idea which is probably achievable but way over the top and I usually find a cheaper way to achieve the look for them,’ says Daniel. ‘I’m not reserved in coming forward and saying this is a silly way to do it – we can do it this way and achieve the same thing.’

He says he basically doesn’t like having to do more work than he has to.

‘When I buy stuff I like to get the best price I can so I treat my customers the same way,’ says Daniel.

Frames by Daniel does a lot of work transporting art-pieces here and internationally for organisations such as the Wallace Art Awards. They work intimately with a lot of New Zealand’s leading artists, and this requires a sensitivity toward their work, although Daniel modestly denies this.

‘To try and paint something I don’t think I’d have any joy at all, but I’m quite creative with wood,’ says Daniel. ‘I’m a visual person and like building hands-on. I’m not so good with writing and reading, which has its drawbacks if you want to repeat something because you haven’t always got it written down.’

‘I’ve been dealing with an older artist called Mervyn Williams whose art I really enjoy,’ he says. ‘We’ve been doing some maquettes for some sculpture projects he’s had in his head for about 25 years, but we met up and managed to get them out of his head and start producing them.’

These days, boards and especially rounds are the big thing, says Daniel, because artists tend to apply a lot more media than before, and canvases don’t work as well for this.

Also, there are constant requests for idiosyncratically shaped boards, and so Daniel employs the latest computer controlled cutters.

‘We can get a program written up for any shape – we can basically do anything,’ he says. ‘We even produce boards in the shape of artists’ logos.’

And what skills are most necessary for such work? Daniel isn’t quite sure but does say you’ve got to be good at measuring. Focus is also important.

‘One of the young guys who worked for me was an artist and when he had an exhibition coming up you could tell because he was a bit switched off and mistakes got made,’ he says.

But Daniel obviously has the focus for this work.

‘We’re never quiet here,’ he says. ‘There’s always plenty to do.’

First published in ArtZone #72


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