Owner strives to see big picture at ‘the little shop in the pines’ | TheUnion.com

Owner strives to see big picture at ‘the little shop in the pines’

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

When it comes to framing art properly, it’s an intimate process, says Tom Head, who has 35 years of custom picture framing under his belt. Why? Because you’re framing something you love. That’s why Head feels it’s important to really dig deep — to find out what exactly why a customer is drawn to a particular piece.

“I want to know how you really feel about the art work you’re bringing in,” he said. “Some might find that invasive, but your art is not for other people — you’re the one who’s going to see it every day.”

Head is the owner of Abreu Gallery Picture Framers, located down a scenic gravel road in south Nevada County. More than likely, customers pulling up to his workshop — just across from his house — will have to dodge the welcoming committee of chickens and puppies. Head’s workshop has walls lined with frame samples, a wood stove and, of course, a bed for the dogs. Anyone who shows up around noon is invited to lunch. On Wednesday, it was lamb, green salad and orzo with lamb drippings.

“It’s amazing how many of my customers manage to show up around lunchtime,” said Head, with a wink. “I guess it’s safe to say that people come here as customers and leave as friends. Meals always provide interesting discussion.”

Head’s art knowledge and culinary skills are well-known in Sacramento, where he owned Abreu Gallery for 25 years. He bought the Auburn Boulevard gallery from Joyce Abreu and claims he was too chicken to change the name.

“Tom used to cook lunch behind his Sacramento gallery every Friday,” said Phil Duncan, a longtime art collector, who has been bringing his pieces to Head for the past decade. “Sometimes there would be as many as 20 people there — mostly artists and collectors. It was a great place to sit around and discuss art.”

Like many of Sacramento’s discriminating art lovers, Duncan has followed Head up the hill, since he relocated to the foothills — between Alta Sierra and Lake of the Pines — in spring of 2011.

“I just brought six pieces to Tom last week,” he said. “He is a sincere, honest and wonderful guy. I consider going to see Tom as recreation. It’s worth the drive. He’s a true gem.”

With a history of working with both professional and personal customers — including photographers, interior designers and collectors — Head says none are more particular and judgmental than his “stitching ladies,” who come to him to frame and protect future heirlooms.

“They come in with their magnifying glasses to make sure the lines are perfect,” he said. “I thrive on being appreciated for the extra step or time I take. That’s where I find meaning.”

Placing himself on the fence between designer and craftsman, Head recently finished framing an original 13-star American flag from the late 1700s. But his customers say he puts just as much effort into framing diplomas and children’s art. He also donates mat remnants and “drop outs” to nonprofits, such as an art program for adults with memory impairments. Despite his dead-pan humor and reputation for not mincing words, Head’s softer side is not hard to find. He was moved to learn recently that his donation had made a profound difference in a patient’s recovery.

“If a tear goes down my cheek,” he said, “just move on.”

If someone comes in and says he needs something framed for a funeral the next day, “these are the things you do first,” said Head. “It’s the right thing to do.”

He also does free framing for peace officers and firefighters.

Everyday services at Abreu Gallery Picture Framers include ready-made frames, needlework framing, shadowbox framing, custom beveled mirrors, picture hanging and installation and mat cutting. Head, along with his small staff, offers free pick-up and delivery service between Nevada City and Sacramento.

While he clearly takes immense pride in the work he does at his “little shop in the pines,” Head knows where his craft fits in.

“If someone comes into your house and says, ‘Nice frame,’ that’s a big no-no,” he said. “That means they noticed it over the art. I love it when a customer feels I’ve enhanced the art. I love making my customers happy. Period.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at cfisher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4203.

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