Door County Art Feature: Finding a Setting

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Finding Frogtown, as every local knows, means continuing south along the lake on Frogtown Road at the point that Highway 57 turns right near the south edge of Baileys Harbor on the way to Jacksonport.

Finding Frogtown Framing and Gallery is easier; the historic building that houses the business is on the highway in downtown Baileys Harbor.

Photo by Dan Eggert.

Finding the right molding and mat to make the perfect frame for your piece of art is easy, too, with proprietor Colleen McCarty to show options and to help with choices.

“Some people apologize when they take longer to make their framing decisions,” McCarty said. “I tell them the time we spend is a drop in the bucket compared to how long their art will be hanging on a wall!”

Frogtown Framing and Gallery evokes a sense of timelessness, perhaps because of the weathered gray building draped with vines and skirted with flowers, or maybe the long view of Lake Michigan. But it could also be the clean, well-lit area inside, the pale floors, the serene music, the open workspace and professionally hung artwork.

McCarty’s tenure in Door County has earned her “local” status. After her graduation with a degree in fine arts in 1983 from UW-Madison, she moved to Frogtown, that southern “suburb” of Baileys Harbor. She began her business in her home, primarily wholesale framing for artists.

“I worked out of a pickup truck,” she recalled. “I’d go to their gallery with sample moldings and mats.”

As the business grew she began taking more retail orders and offering additional options. Finally she out-grew the pickup and rented a commercial location in the village.

“I needed a space for people to come to us,” she said. “For example, if someone wanted me to create a frame for a wedding dress.”

Not only traditional artwork comes to Frogtown Framing. McCarty has framed christening gowns, collections, and once, an antique domino set with ivory inlays.

The present building she and her husband Tom Utzinger purchased in 1994. Originally built around 1916 to house a dairy cooperative, the building was acquired by Ivar Anderson for his commercial laundry, washing sheets and tablecloths for the tourist industry. Fred Anderson was the third generation to run that family business.

Utzinger, who is a carpenter, remodeled the building to accommodate Frogtown Framing and Gallery. In addition to the gallery and framing areas, Utzinger has his own workshop, and the couple has living quarters on the second floor.

“It’s a short commute to work!” McCarty laughed. “Sometimes two weeks will pass before I start my car. I walk to the bank, the post office – for everything!”

The “green” experience of living above your workplace seems natural to her, as her pharmacist grandfather lived with his family above his drugstore.

“It’s a wonderful space,” McCarty said, surveying her operation, “a nice space, nice and bright.” Windows provide natural light that augments the gallery lighting.

“When we purchased the building,” she continued, “one of the things we were looking for was to have the work area open for people to see.”

Customers don’t necessarily realize all that goes into framing a piece, she explained. If they are educated about the process, they better appreciate the price they are asked to pay for the frame.

All in all, McCarty considers hers “a perfect work environment.” The business has highway exposure, it’s easy to see and get to, she can work while talking to people, and she can step outside for lunch and have a view of the water.

She enjoys her framing work, which allows her to use the skills she acquired with her degree and at the same time puts her in contact with art.

“I like working with my hands,” McCarty said, “and at the end of the day you have a completed project. When people bring something in, it’s in a raw state. Later, when you open the package of the framed piece for them, they’re exited because it looks so great. It’s like the presentation of a beautiful meal!”

But she knows that customers are occasionally intimidated by the process and the choices they face. “I want to make them comfortable,” she said. “I assume that the work to be framed has value for them, and I treat it as such. It’s all important, whether it’s a child’s artwork, an old photo, a first attempt at watercolor – it’s important because it’s a part of their life.”

McCarty’s goal is to help people make choices that will make them happy with the piece. “Customers will say, ‘I don’t know what I want,’” she said. “But when I work with them, they have options that they like, and we are here to help draw that out of them. And I educate them about the process and about taking care of their artwork.”

Sue Ryan, McCarty’s employee, shares that philosophy. “I have the best employee in the whole country!” McCarty exclaimed.

The gallery complements the framing business. “It’s small,” McCarty said, “but I like its smallness because I feel I know my artists. Some are friends from years ago, and some are friends from being in the gallery.”

She likes a “clean” gallery – a bright, well-lit uncluttered area with pieces hung so that people can “read” the artwork, be able to approach pieces that are small and intimate, or step back if something is big and bold. “Pieces of art should not intrude upon one another,” she said. “I like to give each its own space.”

Laura Meddaugh, who creates whimsical acrylics, and Christine Rademacher, who makes small ceramic animals, are artists that she has known since childhood. Also featured are the pastel landscapes of Carole Molepske, the black and white photography of Paul Otto, and the free machine embroidery on hand-painted silk by Sylvia Naylor.

Printmaking and drawing in charcoal were special interests of McCarty when she was in college, and while she occasionally finds time to make art, her business consumes much of her time. However, that may change. Her plan is eventually to move with her husband to a house they own on an island off Puerto Rico, one about the size of Washington Island, she said, with about 10,000 people. She doesn’t think there will be much of a demand for framing. She’ll just make art.

Frogtown Framing and Gallery is located at 8142 Hwy. 57 in Baileys Harbor and is open year round. Summer hours are 9 am – 5 pm, Monday through Saturday; winter hours are 10 am – 4 pm, Wednesday through Saturday. Call 920.839.2566 for additional information.