Norton's Has Framed Art, Hosted Shows for Generations
Norton’s Fine Art and Framing's experience spans more than five decades.
It was 1949—the year NATO was formed and Silly Putty was first sold.
St. Louisan Cecil Norton had grown weary of his job as an architect-engineer (at the time a single discipline) and the pressure of working with contractors.
Norton’s wife Ruth, an interior decorator whose clients include Stan Musial’s wife, was framing artwork for her customers. Cecil wanted to frame artwork too, son Doug Norton said.
The couple opened Norton's Fine Art and Framing in the Central West End. Business flourished, and eventually the Nortons took over all three floors of the building. Doug Norton, who now runs the company, started working there when he was in high school.
His wife Mary joined the team when they married in 1972, three years after Cecil Norton died. Ruth Norton died in 1978. Today, Mary and Doug’s son, Ty also works in the family business. Rounding out the staff is Cassie, the business’ guard dog.
The company has built a reputation for doing quality work with outstanding customer service. Norton’s résumé features Ameren, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T and BJC HealthCare, but its clients also include individuals who have come to trust Norton’s to frame their expensive artwork and precious memorabilia.
“We’ve framed everything from turtle shells to a retiree's stained shirt from Pepsi,” Doug Norton said. Among the unusual items framed: a piece of fabric from an archaeological dig and a Civil War flag so big the frame wouldn’t fit through the door. “We had to saw the transom out and then put it back after we got the flag out,” he said.
When the Professional Picture Framers Association began offering certification for picture framers in 1986, Mary and Doug Norton were among the first three people in the state to achieve the designation.
“Since then, we’ve gotten known for doing museum quality framing, or conservation framing as most people call it,” Norton said.
Certification ensures the framer uses materials that will not damage the item being framed. Masking tape or corrugated cardboard backings can cause deterioration to the items you’re trying to preserve, Norton said.
Norton’s can perform deacidification to prevent the breakdown of newspaper clippings. The company also uses artists who can restore damaged artwork.
Norton’s remained at its original location for 55 years, but seven years ago the cost of rent on the building tripled. To ensure the company wouldn’t face another move, the Nortons bought the building at 2025 S. Big Bend in Maplewood.
“Being the third generation in a family owned and operated business that spans 62 years; there’s not many businesses that can say that,” Ty Norton said. “It’s basically a legacy at this point.”
His father does most of the “back-end stuff” while his mother does most of the “front-end stuff,” Ty Norton said. “I just kind of fill in all the gaps in between.”
He also handles most of the company’s marketing, graphic design and online sales.
The website got a real workout a few years ago when Charley Harper, one of the artists whose work Norton’s sells, was featured on CBS television’s Sunday Morning program. “We thought our website was going to go down it had so many hits,” Mary Norton said.
Norton’s has shipped Harper’s work all over Europe and to Australia, she said.
In addition to frames and art by nationally and internationally known artists, Norton’s also sells jewelry, glassware, note cards and ornaments.
“Once people find us they say, ’Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to come here to buy gifts’ because my prices have such a range you can find a wonderful artistic gift for just about anyone,” Mary Norton said. She also sells Mary Kay cosmetics in the shop.
Both Ty and Doug Norton credit Mary Norton with the gallery’s seamless interface with its clients.
“Mary Norton is probably the most accomplished frame designer in St. Louis today,” Doug Norton said. He estimated years ago she designed more than 20,000 different framing jobs. “That’s probably closer to 30,000 now, I would guess,” he said.
Norton customers have so much faith in Mary they often leave the frame selection decisions up to her. Bob Kaley of Frontenac has been a Norton’s customer for 30 years.
“They’re very, very knowledgeable about art itself and framing and how to present it best," he said.
Norton’s has framed roughly 400 Harper prints for Kaley as well as his own needlepoint, necktie, plate and dish.
“It’s not just pictures,” he said. “They can also make a nice presentation of anything you want to put on your wall—or your ceiling. They actually helped me frame and hang a picture on my ceiling. They’re very creative.”
Norton's next show begins on April 8, when it will feature "Studies in Texture" by George Malek. The opening reception runs from 6-9 p.m.