Small frame shop had big role in displaying border artists

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In Northeast El Paso is a small shop with B.B. King on the loudspeakers and bold green letters that read “Framing Concepts.” This is Alfredo Sanchez’s domain – a frame-making mecca that helped display the works of Gaspar Enriquez, Tom Lea, and Hal Marcus.

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Alfredo Sanchez stands among his wall of frame samples. Photo credit: Antonio Villasenor-Baca

Sanchez, now 67, has been framing for over 40 years, opening his own frame shop in 1995.

“I’ve always been interested in art. High school, college, and stuff like that.,” he said. “When I got out of the army, back in 71′, there was an opening at a framing place. I’d never done framing, but it had to do with art, and that’s how I got started in it.”

The idea to start his own business and delve into self-employment came while working at another shop. After doing a large job for Providence Hospital, but receiving little recognition, he decided to create Framing Concepts.

“I went there for the opening and I did almost everything that was up there, got no recognition, and the guy I worked for stood there and got patted on the back and congratulated and I thought, this isn’t right,” he said with a boisterous laugh.

For more than 20 years, Sanchez has remained in the same small and subtle shopping center. He explained that people told him to open up on the east or west side of town where there was more people but he chose to open up shop in the Northeast because there were no other framing places there at the time.

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Alfredo Sanchez, frame master, explaining his tattoos. Photo credit: Antonio Villasenor-Baca

Sanchez has framed work for artists like iconic Chicano painter Gaspar Enriquez, including his large piece at the very entrance of the El Paso Museum of Art that extends up to the second-floor.

“I met Gaspar Enriquez when I was working at another place. He realized I was the guy that was doing everything. When I left that place, he followed me, he looked me up – him and some other artists – and they started coming over here. So I’ve been doing his work for thirty years or so. Through him I got to meet a lot of prominent artists, Tom Lea, oh, you name it.”

Framing Concepts and Sanchez’s place in art history is cemented because he was there among those artists before they become the artistic giants they are today. He met Chicano sculptor Luis Jimenez, and historian and artist Tom Lea. He worked with them.

And Sanchez has been a promoter of the arts since he opened Framing Concepts, the shop that looks like a small art gallery itself with a workspace separated from paintings in a main room only by hanging beads that make out the face of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Another quality that makes Sanchez and his work so unique is his use of “conservation material.” He uses special material that big box stores may not have or train their employees on, because although it can be more expensive, protects the piece of art or photographs being framed.

Sanchez said he uses this material because: “If it’s a family photograph, you can’t put a price on that. It’s got more value than a piece of artwork because it means something to you. It’s got the sentimental value.”

He explained that these materials are to avoid acid burning and to cut ultraviolet rays by 90 percent to protect them and prevents them from fading.

The artwork that Sanchez displays in his shop are also selected for a specific reason, just like his materials.

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Alfredo Sanchez looks over artwork in his display window. Photo credit: Antonio Villasenor-Baca

He said most of the artists have asked if he could display their work.

“Normally i will look at their artwork and judge it on my own, for my own merits, I’ll look at it and say ‘well, I like your work.’ And then other times I have taken artists that bring stuff in, it might not be the highest quality but I can tell that they’ve got talent and I’ll give them the opportunity to show for the first time in their life, which really gets them excited! They say ‘wow! I’m in a gallery, it’s my first time!’ And I think that motivates them even more to pursue their goals.”

Sanchez admits it has been a couple of years since he last had a show in his store and is no longer as involved in the art community as he once was because of his age and because aside from one part-time employee, he works alone.

Sanchez has remained hidden away for 20 years but said he has managed to stay in business competing against large chains because of his quality work. His customers have come to know him as the man with a large roaring laugh, an even larger welcoming smile, arms covered in tattoos, and that is always playing his jazz station on Pandora.

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