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Lessons in Cultural Difference

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Moreno Valley

Tiny Moreno Valley store makes art framing affordable and African and Mexican art accessible

By Chris Levister

If your pictures are worth a thousand words your frames are probably worth a lot more, many of which are too foul to print.

“It’s insane to purchase a $100 print and be forced to pay $300 for a quality mat and frame,” says Merle Nazareth. The Sun Lakes art enthusiast treasures her impressive collection of Black art. Her spacious home boasts an entire room dedicated to her favorite artist, Riverside’s internationally recognized Charles Bibbs. She thinks nothing of shelling out a thousand dollars for a Bibbs limited edition lithograph but it’s the $400 price tag to frame it that sends chills down her spine.

Enter the tiny cluttered world of Alma and Robert Medina’s Robert’s Art Gallery and Framing. Part social circle, part gallery, part 101 in classic and ethnic art, part we’ll frame anything you bring us, complete with complex master cut matting and framing at a virtually unheard of price to boot.

Tucked away in a nearly abandoned Moreno Valley strip mall, the store’s sign reads Simply Art. For a growing number of serious artists, collectors, interior decorators and just plain folk, it’s one of the areas best kept secrets. “My niece told me about this place. I had to make the 20 mile trip here.” For Wana Sims of Woodcrest it was a trip worth making. “I just spent under $400 to get 14 small antique prints and two personally cross stitched works professionally matted and framed. Wow what a deal,” she gushed.

She is hardly alone here among the throngs milling about the crush of originals, ethnic lithograph art prints, canvas oil paintings, framed mirrors and decorating accessories. “This place has an impressive selection of Black art says Minnie Hudson as she clutches a John Holyfield signed print. The nationally known Black artist’s lush originals often command thousands of dollars.

The stale shopper’s response ‘just looking,’ is not part of the lexicon here thanks to Gloria Rick, Tina Shackles, Grace More and master framer Fernardino. “We try to increase their knowledge of what art really is. The more we learn about each other the more we understand and respect each other for our ethnic differences,” says long time employee Ricks. That motto springs from our owners Alma and Robert.

“We’ve framed art work for the likes of Shaq, Snoop Dogg and Bobby Bonds. Everyone is family,” says More who volunteers while recovering from hand surgery.

Alma is petite and dressed in capris and a sleeveless green sweater. She looks fresh even after loading a large painting into the trunk of a customer’s van. “Look around our customers are happy, they come from all over, as far away as Lancaster. Mexican, Black, White, Asian, it’s one big melting pot.” She insists, “there’s a story of heritage and tradition in every piece of art. Impressionism, abstract, contemporary, Black, Mexican, still life, baroque, every piece holds the indomitable spirit of its unique culture. There was a time when you couldn’t find Mexican or Black art depicting positive images,” she says “that’s changed.”

Alma says she wants her daughter Selenne (who mans the decorating accessories on weekends) to learn about cultural differences as well as her own Mexican heritage. “What better way to introduce children to the world than through art,” she says.

“Doing art framing was an opportunity that came out of a very hard time for me,” says Alma. “I was tossed into the world of business 10 years ago when husband Robert was suddenly laid off his job.” With a child to raise she dusted off what had been an off and on hobby, matting and framing photos and prints many from her native Mexico. She convinced Robert to take a few pieces to a local swap meet. That first sale became a calling card for Alma’s new career, and soon friends began signing up to experience her warm, offbeat elegance and ability to create aesthetic harmony between picture and frame. “We go out of our way to bring out the artistic flair.

It’s humbling to see moms and dads put their three year olds’ first drawings in our hands. These are treasures that cannot be replaced. We try to preserve memories.” Looking around, there’s no shortage of believers like the couple whose collection of vintage “Gone With The Wind” prints set in a closet until they heard about ‘Alma’s place.’ “The framing is exquisite and affordable. We can finally hang the collection in our bedroom,” she said.

“We’ve been customers for 8 or 9 years,” says Ken Jordan of Highland. “In the pantheon of art framing these guys are the best. Every piece we own was framed here.” Flipping through a large stack of lithographs, “this is organized chaos and we love it,” he says. Like mice swallowed by a python, he and wife Kimberly stand wedged in the belly of posters, photos and an edgy collage of frames. Like other siblings of this growing family they wait patiently for the chance to experience that aesthetic harmony between picture and frame. “Hey it’s worth the wait. The company is good. The price is right,” he said.

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