Remembering Paul Frederick

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Paul Frederick’s famous frame shop, The Atelier, which he owned and operated for 22 years, was located in the Sea Cliff area, more commonly known as the North Beach district, in San Francisco.
“Paul Frederick was the original framing educator and a good friend of framers everywhere,” says PFM contributor and National Conference instructor James Miller, MCPF, GCF. “His books and classes provided the genesis of American framing education and have inspired framers for decades to seek greater knowledge and to improve their technical skills.” Industry legend Paul Frederick (Christopher), CPF, passed away in September at the age of 99, in UCSF hospital in San Francisco, his hometown. Frederick was born in Paris, France, to parents who had emigrated from the Ukraine. He was educated in Europe, fought in WWII for the French Resistance, and managed to survive five years in a Nazi concentration camp. As an experienced actor, film producer, and connoisseur of the arts, he arrived in the U.S. in 1950, locating first in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. While working part-time in his uncle’s art supply store in L.A., Frederick developed a real passion for picture framing and developed a high level of confidence in his techniques. He was attracted to the burgeoning art scene in San Francisco and opened his own frame shop, The Atelier, in the North Beach area of San Francisco later that same year.

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Frederick, with framed pictures in hand, outside The Atelier in the fifties.

Shortly after opening his business, Frederick’s chance meeting with iconic photographer Ansel Adams led to a lifelong professional relationship and friendship. Frederick’s son, John Christopher, says, “He became a kind of silent partner to Ansel--framing, preserving, and repairing photographs the world had grown to admire. Over the years, museums, art galleries, and private collectors came to Paul when they needed help with Ansel Adams prints. Many of the photographs that were so expertly cared for by Paul still hang in museums today.” In 1970, Frederick helped establish the Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) and opened the Picture Framing Academy in 1973, the first U.S. school for professional picture framers, where he taught over 1,300 people over the course of 21 years.

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Frederick photographed by Ansel Adams, for whom he was the silent framing partner for most of Adams’ career.

PFM contributor and National Conference instructor Paul McFarland feels that he owes much of his professional development to Frederick. MacFarland says that he was a photography student at Ohio University in the mid-seventies as a student of Arnold Gasten, an understudy of Ansel Adams and head of the University’s photography department. During a conversation about mounting photos, Gasten explained that he had learned a trick from “this guy in San Francisco who frames for Ansel Adams.” Three years later, after moving to San Francisco, MacFarland introduced himself to Paul Frederick and, upon Frederick’s invitation, soon enrolled in the Picture Framing Academy. MacFarland says, “He was so confident about what he did; nothing shocked him. He was a real inspiration to a lot of us at the time. He introduced hundreds of us to framing formulas that we use even today. He was the only guy in the seventies talking about preservation. He was so open and willing to trade ideas. Today, I spend much of my time as an instructor and often think of a lesson I learned from Paul--tell anecdotal stories but always bring it back to art.”

During the seventies, Frederick continued to be very active for the PPFA, conducting lectures throughout the U.S. while promoting his first book, The Framer’s Answer Book, a very influential framing instructional book that is still referenced today. He later delivered More Answers for the Framer in 1981 and Framer’s Book of Materials and Techniques in 1990, which became the foundation book for the CPF exam. Christopher and his father had recently been working on updating these three books in digital form, planned for release early next year. Christopher says of his father, “He was a true Renaissance man who was primarily known for picture framing but had tremendous skill in sculpturing, painting, drawing, and acting. Even though I chose a career in computers, I was like him in having a love for gadgets. I learned so much from him just being around his shop and seeing how confidently he approached challenges.”

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Frederick selling his third and perhaps most widely referenced book, Framer’s Book of Materials and Techniques.

Christopher and his wife took a trip to Europe with Frederick in 1998, and it was the first time he recalled his dad talking in great detail about his past. Fortunately, John had the video camera ready, forming the beginnings of a documentary about Frederick’s life, which can be viewed at http://vimeo.com/91203141. Christopher says his father was “vibrant, intelligent, unstoppable, honorable, and generous.” “After my mom passed away, Dad was living alone in South San Francisco in a four-bedroom house with in-law apartments in the back. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and displaced so many people, Paul contacted the Red Cross and said he wanted to help. A woman with three cats and two dogs stayed in one of the apartments for six to seven months, living rent-free the entire time.”

Paul Frederick will not only be remembered for his many contributions to picture framing, but also for his indomitable and generous spirit.

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