Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Studio Shop at 100! The First Forty Years (1915-1955)


This is the second in a series of posts describing the 100 year history of The Studio Shop. The last post left off with Dorothy and Ralph K Crawford’s marriage in San Mateo, and the opening of Dorothy’s photography studio on Burlingame Avenue (The Studio Shop at 100, The Early Years).

The Studio Shop began when Ralph bought a picture framing business from Henry Schath on San Mateo Drive. He was establishing his store in the Husing Building in 1915, which is now a parking lot on California Drive, behind Kabul Restaurant.


A newspaper article from January 1916 writes of a flood caused by heavy rains that winter. Ralph's store was one of the local businesses that sustained damage. He estimated his loss at an astounding $50 from the water that poured in under the doors, running over pictures and other goods.
Studio Shop business card, undated.
Courtesy of the Burlingame Historical Society.

Two weeks later another news article announces that Ralph and Dorothy Crawford plan to move their separate art and photography studios to a new building, the Stark building at 1289 Burlingame Avenue. At this time they merged the two businesses, and housed themselves above the Studio Shop on the second floor of the Stark building.


On June 18th, 1922, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote “Travelers from afar tell us of their delight with the charming Studio Shop in Burlingame which Dorothy and Ralph Crawford conduct and in which their art is expressed--the unusual Photographic Art of Dorothy Crawford, and the connoisseur’s appreciation and collection of rare objects of Art in which Ralph Crawford excels.”
Soon after establishing herself in the area, Dorothy had an eager following of clientele in San Mateo, Burlingame, and Hillsborough who sought for her to photograph and memorialize their every special event. Not just an exceptional photographer, Dorothy was charismatic, witty, and extremely driven.


In 1925 they purchased a vacant lot, 311-315 Primrose Road. Ralph drew the design for a new English cottage style building, in which to run their business.
Ralph K. Crawford building opening announcement.
Published in San Mateo Times, 1931



But in 1929, at just 52 years old, Ralph passed away from leukemia. Only a few months later the Great Depression began. In the face of these tragic events, Dorothy persisted in having the shop built. It was constructed by Williams and Burroughs, and dedicated as the Ralph K. Crawford building in 1931.


Ralph K. Crawford building, undated.
After Ralph’s passing, and through the Great Depression, Dorothy Crawford kept the Studio Shop running. Not only did she run the business, but sought to give back to her community of Peninsula residents in keeping them in touch with the art movements of the day. A series of exhibitions of leading California artists were featured at the Studio Shop during the thirties. Notable artists Maynard Dixon, Percy Gray and Ralph Stackpole were showcased.


Later, as a succession of relatives came to help with the business, Dorothy traveled extensively, through the United States, Europe, and even to China. She led a driven and exceptional life, well ahead of the changes being made in women’s rights during her lifetime. At 67, having run the business independently for 15 years after Ralph’s passing, and through the devastations of the Depression, Dorothy retired due to Parkinson’s Disease in 1944. Her niece Carolyn Misselwitz took over the management of the business, continuing with its gifts and framing aspects until she retired in 1955.
John Benson, ca 1955.


John Benson was a high school shop teacher, between jobs with a young family to support in 1955. Seeing a For Sale ad in the Chronicle for a picture frame business, John borrowed $500 from his father-in-law for the down payment, and together with his wife Martha, bought the Studio Shop.


Dorothy’s brother, Sid Frink, taught John the art of picture framing during the Bensons’ first six months with the business. Much like Ralph and Dorothy, John and Martha quickly became established and involved members of the community. They were a perfect couple to continue what the Chronicle had described 33 years earlier as customers’ “delight with the charming Studio Shop in Burlingame.”

Next episode: John and Martha Benson run the Studio Shop, raise their three daughters, and continue the business’s dedication to its community.



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Friday, February 20, 2015

Tom Soltesz: Modern Impressionist

Impressionism Today!  at The Studio Shop art gallery
February 20 - March 15, 2015
Artists Reception: Friday, Feb. 20 at 5:30pm


Tom Soltesz lives and works in Northern California where he paints California plein air landscapes in the tradition of Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet of France and the California Impressionists: Percy Gray, Edgar Payne, William Wendt and others. When the French Impressionist influence reached California in the 1890s it was embraced by artists who found the Impressionist ideas and techniques to be well suited to capturing California's bright sun and natural beauty. Like the Impressionists before him, Tom Soltesz employs their techniques of quick brushstrokes and vivid color to capture the ever changing light when painting en plein air.

Mountain Melody, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

Mountain Melody is a beautifully balanced composition with distinct foreground, middle distance and background formed by diagonal lines of the sloping hills. The golden glow on the hillsides is quintessential California landscape.  Notice how the trees are composed of quick dashes of green and yellow highlights (much easier to see in person than on a computer image). The shadows in the distant hills are not black but a cool bluish gray which adds depth to the range of colors.
A Walk in the Woods, Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches
A Walk in the Woods is a lovely vignette of a wooded path framed by aspen trees on either side. The sunny glade in the middle distance draws one's eye down the path. The composition is balanced by the bit of sun in the foreground which warms the entire setting.


Evening Shadows, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches

Evening Shadows is a lovely scene which captures the last rosy light of the setting sun on leafy eucalyptus trees. With virtuoso brushwork Soltesz has portrayed the sunny branches with little more than a few dabs of yellows and orange. The sky is a lovely and subtle spectrum of muted hues which amazingly contains the entire color wheel, from pale blue at the horizon through lavender, pink, yellow and teal. 


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ken Christensen is a Wild Beast!

Impressionism Today! Feb. 20 - March 15, 2015
Opening reception - Friday, Feb. 20 at 5:30pm

The "wild beasts" were a group of French painters nicknamed the Fauves by an unsympathetic art critic in 1905 because of their bold use of color and wild brushstrokes. Despite the fact that Vincent Van Gogh had died over a decade earlier, in 1890, his use of color inspired the Fauves to explore the expressive possibilities of color over the realism of earlier Impressionists. Also influential was the influx of African artwork such as carved masks which artists admired as honest expressions of truth without the constraints of modern society.

One color tool of the Fauves was the use of complementary colors, pairs of colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel and together appear brighter: pairs such as red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple. Christensen's paintings make fabulous use of complementary colors for heightened visual impact.

Arroyo Seco, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
In Arroyo Seco notice the prevalence of green and yellow in the bushes of the foreground which contrasts with the complementary reddish purples in the middle distance. The bright colors and enhanced vibrancy lends a playful air to the painting.

Spring Flowers on Carrizo Plain, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
In Spring Flowers on the Carrizo Plain, the field is predominately yellow punctuated by its complementary color, soft purple in the foreground bushes and a distant field. The purplish bushes are accented with pale blue brushstrokes, which are contrasted with areas of orange.

Blue Horse, Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches

The first thing one notices in the aptly titled Blue Horse, is the blue horse and the orange barn. Again, complementary colors. This painting is like a symphony of color playing a call and response with one another.  The orangey yellow of the distant hillside playing with other greens and yellows in the painting and contrasting with the lavender blue shadows on the road in the foreground. The placement of a blue horse is also symbolic of the Blue Rider art movement which followed the Fauves in the 1910s in Germany.



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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Picture Frame Challenge: The Magic of Magnets


A client brought us an interesting picture frame challenge recently. They had a collection of cookie cutters they wanted to display and they wanted to be able to take the cutters out and use them.  Okay, that's easy, we could fabricate a shadow box frame with a hinged door and mount the cookie cutters on pegs so that they would be removable. The second request was much more challenging.

The client also wanted the flexibility to add to their collection and change the arrangement of cookie cutters in the display case. Since the cutters are of different sizes and irregularly shaped it's not as simple as displaying them in rows three across. The solution called for the mounting pegs to be moveable. But how were we going to do that?

After considering various mounting methods such as velcro and clear acrylic I came up with the idea of magnetic pegs on a sheet metal backing. The metal was covered with silk fabric for an elegant appearance.




I also added rubber O-rings to give the magnetic pegs some grip.

Here's a view of pairs of magnetic pegs before adding the cookie cutters.  Hinged door closes with magnets embedded in the frame so there are no visible latches or handles.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Studio Shop at 100! The Early Years

This is the first in a series of posts describing the 100 year history of The Studio Shop, beginning here in the 1890s when the founders Dorothy and Ralph Crawford met at school in Kansas.

Before Dorothy and Ralph opened the Studio Shop in Burlingame in 1915, Dorothy had been a pioneering entrepreneur in rural Kansas with the emerging technology of photography. In the early 1900s Dorothy was an independent minded single woman who apprenticed with an established photographer and eventually ran two successful studios of her own.

Dorothy was born in 1877 with the given name of Maude Frink along with a twin sister, May Frink, on a Kansas farm settled by her parents who arrived by covered wagon. To get a decent education the twins were sent to boarding school at a Baptist college in Ottawa, KS, now called Ottawa University and named after the local Indian tribe. After graduating in 1897 Maude returned to the farm to take care of family. At school she met her future husband, Ralph Crawford, though they wouldn't marry for another 16 years.  Ralph continued his education as a civil engineer and left to Alaska for a surveying job in 1900.

Ottawa Boarding School, Ralph Crawford,
Maude Frink and twin sister May Frink.
Courtesy of Burlingame Historical Society


Dorothy Crawford, nee Maude Frink, undated.
Courtesy of Burlingame Historical Society

Maude had a short stint teaching in a country school but she didn't like that and later contacted the school photographer from boarding school for an apprenticeship. After a few years of apprenticing, independent Maude opened her own studio in Wellsville, Kansas in 1904 where she lived with her sister May who was now married to the editor of the Wellsville newspaper.

By 1907 Maude was living on her own and it was noted in the local newspaper gossip column (a little like Facebook today) that she got a telephone installed.

By 1909 she moved back to the big city of Ottawa where she purchased the studio of her former employer, Mr. Martin, when he moved to a prestigious studio in New York.

In 1911 Maude achieved some photographic success by winning state awards for her photo portraits of her niece Carolyn, May's daughter, who would later help her aunt run The Studio Shop.

Ralph Crawford, undated
Courtesy of Buirlingame Historical Society
Over the years Ralph Crawford would return to Kansas to visit relatives and maintain some relationship with Maude, but he would soon leave for another surveying job, such as Death Valley and the high Sierras for the Los Angeles Water Project.  He was part of the great quest to conquer the West, like so many Google cars mapping today's city streets, armies of surveyors were employed to swarm over deserts and mountains to map the West. The Crawford family history states that during one of these visits Ralph and Maude became "engaged" only to be later called off by Maude as she grew tired of waiting.

By 1913 Ralph had landed a job as assistant engineer for the City of Burlingame and he lived in San Mateo. His new found stability must have lured Maude to California because she packed up her photo studio, moved to California and the two got married in February of 1913.  She was 35 years old and Ralph was 33. This is when Maude Frink completely changed her name. She claimed to have never liked her name, Maude, and its rhyming sound with Crawford would only make matters worse.

Soon she opened her third photo studio as Dorothy Crawford Photographer at the corner of Burlingame Ave. and Lorton, on the second floor of the Miller Drug building, what is now the Luggage Center.

In the photo below a small Dorothy Crawford Photographer sign can be seen above "Miller" in the Miller Drug sign. This photo would be 1914 or 1915.



















Next episode: Ralph and Dorothy join forces by opening a new picture frame shop and photo studio called Crawford's Studio Shop.

I would like to thank Jennifer Pfaff and Martha May of the Burlingame Historical Society for their assistance with research and supplying images.





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