Art has got Rebecca Proctor surrounded.
Proctor is the owner of RSP Studio Custom Framing in Dover and has been the director of The Gallery at the Washington Street Mills for the past three years. When she’s not building frames by hand for artists seeking her custom services, she’s working with artists to curate shows for the gallery. In the past, when she had more free time, she was a photographer herself, a passion she hopes to find her way back to again someday, she said.
This month and next, The Gallery is presenting its first group exhibit with works exclusively by artists from Washington Street Mills.
The eight artists whose works will be featured are Laura Utley, Ann Larkey, Aaron Stanley, Linda Wood Feldman, and husband-and-wife pairs Ron and Diane St. Jean and Joe and Malori Forrestall. These artists are glass blowers, painters, photographers, sculptors, mobile makers and more.
“We have had group exhibitions in the past — in fact, I encourage it because I have a wide range of artists available to me,” said Proctor, who is part of Dover’s arts commission. But none of these exhibits has solely featured artists from the Mill.
“Because I’ve been working with them for so long and seeing what they create, I was very inspired by all of them,” she said. “I know what they’ve put into one piece of art.” She operates her framing business out of the mill and thus sees and interacts with artists nearly all of the time.
Proctor comes up with ideas and themes for the gallery’s shows and says hand-blown sculptures, painted driftwood, varied metals and more will be part of the group exhibit. She calls it a well-rounded show; there’s not a lot of overlap in terms of the types of media represented.
Proctor’s worlds of framing and curating seem to blend together nicely. She got her start building frames four years ago when she was an active photographer looking for frames in which to display her work. She said she was unhappy with most of the frames she was getting back from framing businesses, and to boot, they were very costly.
“I am a perfectionist, so I started building for myself,” said Proctor, whose background is in marketing and business. “At some point I realized I can frame other people’s work as well.”
Given that framing is a large part of her life’s work, Proctor speaks of the process both fondly and somewhat inexactly. The steps seem to come naturally to her, though many would not know where to begin. She buys molding in bulk to keep costs down for herself and, in turn, the artists. She works with 9-foot sticks in a process that involves such verbs as cut, glue and vice. Proctor says each frame takes several hours to make.
She learned to build frames years ago after purchasing a piece of equipment made to cut frames easily from a Portsmouth framing company run by Melissa Wentworth that was going out of business.
“I had a feel for putting frames together, but I needed to learn how to cut and join them,” said Proctor, who has lived on the Seacoast for the past 20 years. Wentworth “would sit with me and watch me, and I would have her critique my work.”
To this day, Proctor says: “I want to be building frames every day.”
She thinks most artists find her through word of mouth or by seeing information about a gallery show in a newspaper. When she begins working with a new client, she likes to learn as much as she can about the artist. Sometimes artists visit to show her their work with the hope of being included in a future gallery show, she said. Sometimes they need printing, matting and sleeving work from Proctor. She said she likes helping newer artists who don’t necessarily have the funds to frame their artwork. In those cases, Proctor makes use of recycled frames to get the work up and in a show.
The gift of helping always comes back, she said.