F or Gabriel Da Silva (pictured right), co-owner of the Frame Shop and Westville Gallery with his wife, Inger (center), as well as the Da Silva Gallery next door, framing isn’t just slapping some wood around some art so that it can hang from a wall. The frame becomes a part of the art, creating a cohesive unit that draws attention to its essential emotional or aesthetic quality. Or it doesn’t.
And when you own and love a piece of art, you want the former. “Every piece that comes in is very special to the person,” Da Silva says. “It’s a small job, but it doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for the person who brought it in.”
The Frame Shop isn’t Da Silva’s first small-business rodeo. After years of touring the country displaying his own sculpture and collage work, in 1995 he opened up a gallery and gift shop in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, shuttling back and forth between his home in Westville home and the business in New York City.
Da Silva loved the Big Apple’s energy and devotion to the arts, but, by 2002, the commute had started to wear on him. Then he heard that the Frame Shop at 899 Whalley, which had been around since 1967, was up for sale. Though he had little experience in the way of framing, he understood art and respected the power of the frame. Plus, the Frame Shop had always doubled as a gallery for area artists, and by this time, Da Silva was heavily involved with the local arts scene.
Six months later Gabriel and Inger Da Silva were the proud new owners. Together they dove head-first into the unknown—but with a lot of good help. They kept on the entire staff, including designer Maxine Olderman, who had been with the shop for 14 years.
That decision was a good one. “The art part is what sold me first,” Da Silva says, referring to the Frame Shop’s gallery component, “but the framing is really what the core of this business was.” He learned from the team (which today includes Violet Harlow, designer and framer, pictured left), eventually becoming a framing expert in his own right. “Framing is about touch. It’s about having a good sense of color and scale,” he says.
In addition to showcasing a variety of works from local artists in the frame shop-proper, Da Silva shows artists’ work in the space next door, Da Silva Gallery. That gallery opened three years ago when the gift shop that used to be there closed its doors. The two spaces are now connected by a doorway, which means more wall space and more mingling room on opening nights.
This year, shows at Da Silva Gallery have focused on paper-based works, like printmaking etchings and monotypes. The current show features watercolors from Joan Cho, a painter and doctor at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Currently at the Frame Shop, oil paintings and photography from a wide swath of international artists from countries like Cuba, Finland, France and Hungary are on display. Also on display are local artist Chris Ferguson’s watercolors, which depict New Haven scenes like a row of unoccupied benches near Quinnipiac River Park and the pavilion at Lighthouse Point Park.
Like Ferguson’s paintings, Da Silva’s involvement in New Haven’s arts scene stretches far beyond his side-by-side storefronts. For thirteen years, Da Silva has helped organize Westville’s yearly May-time Artwalk, when several Westville Village businesses showcase local art for two days. Da Silva also sits on the board of Artists Lofts West, a cluster of affordable apartment units for artists off Whalley Avenue in—where else?—Westville. Da Silva was even the president of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, a group of volunteers who work with businesses to keep the area active and vibrant.
With all of the responsibilities Da Silva has taken on, you might wonder: does he ever get to work on his own art? A smiling Da Silva explains that just a few days before being asked the question, he’d made a commitment to himself: by 2015, he must complete enough new work to display at a show in his very own gallery. The show will also feature the work of his friend, Jorge Quintero, a sculptor and resident of West Haven.
And so, sometime in 2015, Da Silva Gallery will feature work from the space’s namesake for the very first time. With everything Da Silva has contributed to Westville and its artist community, it’s safe to say he’s earned a little spotlight.
The Frame Shop & Westville Gallery
899 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Written by Jake Goldman. Photographed by Luke and Mistina Hanscom.