In 1974, when Alan Fowler came to St. Helena, he said he and his wife Kathryn “had two nickels between us to rub together.” He was on the “11-year college degree plan,” but said he was determined to finish his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration as he attended Sonoma State.
About the same time Homer Denton – a retired engineer from Mare Island according to Fowler – started framing textiles in the back of Lynnette’s Yarn Shop of the Main Street. Denton, Fowler remembered, was looking for some help, and offered Fowler a job. “Kathryn and I discussed it,” Fowler said. “We decided to try it for year.”
That was 40 years ago (Sept. 7, 1977) and Fowler said he’s never looked back.
“I love this business,” he said, sitting in the studio of Alan’s Saint Helena, located in the ivy covered stone building at 1310 Oak Ave. He was surrounded by walls of sample frames in a rainbow of styles and colors, collected over the years that his business has evolved. “Every day is different when I come into work. “
In the back room – in the area he humorously calls “the dark side” of the studio – is where he performs his framing magic. There’s a large work table, a vertically mounted mat cutting jig, and a workbench with an array of tools, tapes, glues, and other items.
This day there was an original print of the Three Pigs from the Walt Disney classic cartoon “Silly Symphonies” awaiting his attention. Fowler said that it was to be for members of the Disney family.
Out in the front area of the studio, there were two large framed racing suits from Sprint car racer Rico Abreu. There were many smaller pieces of art, meticulously framed in nooks and crannies all around the shop.
Fowler said, “Often customers will ask me to make a piece work for a particular décor, and I’ll visit where the piece is to be hung. But a room’s décor will frequently change over time as tastes evolve, while the piece of art does not. In fact, in my experience, most pieces of art will remain in the same frame throughout its life. So, instead of focusing on a room’s décor, my goal is to extend the art into the frame, to complement its impact.”
Fowler works with frame and mat distributors throughout the country, and the number of samples on his wall is a testament to his 40 years of experience in the industry. He said he has returning customers from all over Northern California. “I might not see them for five or 10 years,” he said. “But, when they want to have something reframed – or if they have something special they’ve found – they come back again and again.”
Alan’s Saint Helena has not always been in its present location. In 2008, he said, he was forced to move the studio from Main Street because of a rent increase. “At the time, it was a real challenge. But today I see it as the best thing that could have happened, and I have no intention to retire.”
Today, Fowler is partnering with co-owner Angie Lagle whose graphics design business compliments the other half of the studio.
Lagle, who has an interdisciplinary degree in communications, business management, and graphic design, has worked with clients in the health care industry, real estate/mortgage industry, entertainment and the hospitality industries. But most of her clients today are in the wine industry.
Her part of the Alan’s Saint Helena business offers logo creation, brand identity, style and design guides, package design, marketing materials, product photography, and large format printing, as well as passport photos and notary services.
Together Fowler and Lagle’s offerings are a visual adventure that speaks both to the ancient skill and craftsmanship of custom framing, and the modern requirements and details of graphic design and marketing.
Alan’s Saint Helena is located on Oak Avenue behind Main Street. “We are a locally serving business, dedicated to the needs of our customers and our community,” Fowler said. “We pride ourselves in doing whatever it takes to satisfy the needs of our clients.”
To reach either Fowler or Lagle call 963-9294 or visit alanssainthelena.com.