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The Best From High Country Magazine TIM MILLER: Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery – An Artistic Frame of Mind

Tim Miller, owner of Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery, displays a finished piece of artwork in his workshop.

By Madison Fisler Lewis (reprinted from The High Country Magazine, July 2014)

In an unassuming corner of Blowing Rock, there sits a little shop on the corner filled to the brim with beautiful artwork of all kinds. If you take a saunter through the rooms, you will be greeted by paintings and sculptures from many esteemed artists like Wiili Armstrong, Elliott Daingerfield, Lita Gatlin, George Snyder and countless others.

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But amongst the walls adorned with interesting artwork of all mediums, one will find an even more interesting man. Tim Miller, owner of Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery in Blowing Rock is celebrating 20 years of success in the art world, and he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

“I am originally from here, Boone,” Miller said on a rainy Monday afternoon in the gallery. The local art connoisseur, now expertly adjusting an Elliot Daingerfield painting on the wall, grew up in the High Country, and when he finally left the area it was to travel for his work.

“I guess I traveled quite a lot when I was younger,” Miller said. “I went to 33 countries while I worked for Sunoco Oil Company based in Pennsylvania. I got to see some pretty cool places along the way.”

In his years with the company, Miller was able to visit places like Singapore, China, Russia (back when it was still the USSR), Pakistan, much of Europe and South America.

“I went to lots of places. I worked for Sunoco for 11 years and that was when I really started to become fascinated by art. Beautiful museums all around the world caught my interest. Once, after some travels in China, I brought back some scrolls. When I brought those back, I took them to a frame shop in the area to have them framed, and I decided that I wanted to try it.”

Miller began to construct crude frames out of his basement once he settled back into the High Country more than two decades ago. But his basement hobby soon became an obsession, and from there became his livelihood.

Tim Miller shows off his certificate designating him as a Fine Art Trade Guild Commended Framer. The endorsement sets Miller apart as one of less then two-dozen in the United States.

“I enjoyed framing, but I really didn’t understand it that well,” Miller said. “So I studied and took some tests and became a certified picture framer through the Professional Picture Framers’ Association in 1997, 17 years ago, and I am still the only certified picture framer in Watauga County.”

Not content with just one certification, Miller soon decided to go abroad and expand his interests.

“Then, in 1998, I went to England to the Fine Art Trade Guild, studied for their test and successfully passed the Guild Commended Framer Endorsement. That is like the PhD of picture framing,” Miller said. “In 1998, worldwide there were only 349 of them, and I am still one of less than two dozen in the United States.”

With his new endorsements and certifications under his belt, Miller was able to expand his offerings to his ever-growing customer base. In 20 years in business, Miller estimates that he has framed tens of thousands of pieces.

“We do lots of really unique ways of framing. We do real gold leaf, French mats, lots of unique techniques that your average frame shop wouldn’t even attempt! We have framed close to 30,000 orders over 20 years, and that is a lot!” said Miller. “We have close to 2,500 different frames. We have 600 mats. So if you calculate that out, we have millions of different combinations. You just have to be willing to experiment and create.”

And it is that freedom for creativity that has kept Miller in the framing business for so long.

“I love to create,” Miller said. “I love a finished piece. Some pieces just aren’t really finished until they are framed. I love a challenge, and every single day is a challenge for me.”

And his customers welcome his creativity and defer to his expertise when it comes to framing their precious works of art for display.

Tim MIller’s frame shop has framed close to 30,000 orders over the 20 years in business and offers close to 2,500 different frames, 600 mats and countless combinations.

“We have customers from Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, Boone, Charlotte and Raleigh. We even have several customers that live in England that we make frames for and we send them out to them. And that’s what made us open up the gallery in the first place.”

Seventeen years ago, the Gallery was added to the frame shop to showcase high-end art from around the nation.

“The framing is a huge part of the business, but since the inception of the gallery 17 years ago, we started carrying really high end art,” Miller said. “We continuously sell Elliot Daingerfield paintings because he spent his summers here. We deal in highly collected artists, but we have a wide range of artists that we represent.”

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Tim Miller always uses the utmost care when completing all of his framing and mounting projects. This care is largely evident when Miller undergoes the painstaking process of applying real gold leaf to frames to give even the most worn frames a beautiful new look. Applying true gold leaf is a major process with many steps, including raw wood, sanded wood, priming clay and then the application of the actual gold leaf. This is just one of the many different techniques that Tim Miller has mastered in order to become one of the most well known and sought after framers in the High Country.

From the very beginning, Blowing Rock Frameworks and Gallery has been synonymous will high quality art in superior frames.

“We have always had extremely high quality artists. Our first big artist was Edward Szmyd and he was considered an American master of light and shadow. He was our first big, big artist that we represented and we sold 87 of his paintings when he was alive. Another one would be Wes Waugh, a local watercolorist, and we have tremendous success with Joe Miller, who owns Cheap Joe’s Art Supply.”

But the gallery is also very well known for the antique paintings that it showcases as well as the more modern artwork that adorns the walls of the gallery.

“We have also had many antique paintings. We have had Picassos, Hudson River Painters, Herman Herzog paintings and even Paul Weber to name a few. We have everything from realistic painters to antique paintings and everything in between. That is the beauty of it.”

Miller reflected on his two decades with the frame shop and the gallery and marveled at how much it has grown over the years.

“When we first started out 20 years ago, we probably would have allowed almost any artist to come in,” Miller said with a laugh. “But we are very selective with the art that we put on the walls [now]. We want only the highest quality paintings in the area to go on the walls, and that is the way we have felt about it for many years. The people that come in to buy paintings, they come in to see the best art in western North Carolina. Even during the recession we still sold a lot of paintings. I think that even if people are depressed about what is going on in society or their finances, I think art really makes people happy and gives them something to relate to. Something new and pleasing on your wall can really make your day and lift your spirits.”

The customer base that the gallery has built over the years is based on trust and mutual respect for the artist, the art itself and the customer.

“Our customers trust us, plain and simple,” Miller said. “We have always been honest with our collectors and always allowed people to take paintings on approval to see if they work. If they don’t work they can just bring them back!”

Customers that come to the gallery and frame shop once are likely to be back time and time again.

“We have a great selection of art, and our framing is second to none in the area,” Miller said. “There are many framers that are certified, but just one that is a Guild Recommended Framer, and that is a big deal. I took a test in England in the metric system and passed it. And I apply that to our artwork as well. We don’t want bad frames on paintings. We want high quality paintings that will last generations.”

Looking back on 20 years in business, Miller thinks about just how far he has come from his humble beginnings.

“I used to go to museums all around the world when I was traveling,” Miller said. “I loved looking at the different styles and different mediums of art, it always intrigued me. I never thought that I would own a gallery! And what’s more, I never thought I would own a successful gallery for 20 years. It’s hard to believe that I make a living doing something that I love so much. For me, I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. Guys never really grow up, we are always little boys. I always have glue on my hands and that says something. This is a passion for me. How many people do you know that get to go to work and just enjoy it? I just can’t believe I get paid to do what I do.”

When asked about highlights of his storied career, Miller mentioned that there were too many to single out just a few.

“Everyday when I come in I get a new challenge. I am happy here, it is not a job for me, and this is my passion. I am really proud to be in business for 20 years. I am most proud of the relationships that I have developed with the community and with the artists. I have developed so many incredible friendships, some of my best friends are my clients.”

For some, 20 years in a profession signals quitting time. But for Tim Miller, leaving the frame shop and gallery behind is not in the question.

“I plan on doing this until I retire,” Miller said with a laugh. “I would love to go another 20 years at least! If my children develop the skill to frame and the eye for art, I would gladly give the business to one of them if they wanted it. But who knows what they want to do.”

Miller’s 2 children, aged 15 and 17, practically grew up in the shop.

“My kids grew up here. When they were a week old they were here in their little cribs. They know this place like the back of their hand.”

And for those who are wondering, no, Tim Miller is no artist himself.

“I don’t have the skill or the patience to be an artist,” Miller said with a laugh. “For me, it is way more fun viewing art than making art. But in a way, I am an artist because I can finish a work of art and make it flow on the wall. I feel like I have had a part in the painting because the majority of paintings are not truly finished until there is a frame on them and they can be presented well.”

And even though he can’t paint himself, his lack of talent in that area has not diminished his drive to make art accessible to everyone.

“I just finished a six-year board title at the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum,” Miller said. “I helped the BRAHM quite a bit with different shows, giving them advice on how to hang paintings and what looks best on the walls. I enjoyed that for six years, but I don’t want to be on any more boards!”

For now, the boards and the stress of museum art shows are behind him. With that, Miller can focus on his true love: framing and selling art to art lovers from all over the world.

“I love my job,” Miller said. “I get to listen to the music that I like, I get to work with my hands. I even get to have my dog here with me! What would I do next? I can’t imagine doing anything else. I am definitely, definitely in the right place. I want to be here for another 20 years at least, and I think with my attitude, I think I will be.”

Seventeen years ago, the gallery was added to the frame show to showcase high-end art from all around the nation. The gallery has showcased such artists as Elliot Daingerfield, Edward Szmyd, Wes Waugh, Joe Miller and Wiili Armstrong, just to name a few.
Choosing frames and the right materials is a very meticulous process that requires planning, design work and labor to finish the piece.
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Just a few of the places Tim MIller has traveled. As he says, “Some pretty cool places.”