GUILD IN THE PRESS
One Year Later
By Bill Mosser
PFM - Picture Framaing
Magazine, August, 2006
Last years storm
seriously hurt many New Orleans framing businessesalthough some
escaped with minor damage. Heres a look at the hurricanes
impact on a number of Crescent City framers.
My first trip to New Orleans
was in 1984 for a PPFA convention. It was a few weeks before Mardi Gras,
and the city was filled with music and revelers with strings of plastic
beads flying everywhere. I fell in love with the city. When Hurricane
Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, I was heartbroken. The images of New
Orleans under water were unbelievable. In March 2006 I went back to
see how the city was recovering and to speak with some of the framers
and suppliers whose lives and businesses had been upended by Katrina.
Lakeview Gallery and Framing
On Friday, three days before the hurricane hit, owner Kyle Daigrepont
of Lakeview Gallery and Framing was at his main shop in Kenner and Ellen
Buckley was working at the Harrison Avenue store in the Lakeview section
of New Orleans. When Daigrepont heard that Katrina had been upgraded
to Category 5, he called Buckley and asked her to start moving customers'
work as high as possible, which was about six feet off the floor. He
did the same, went home to secure his house, and then drove to his brother's
home 80 miles away. With most of the New Orleans' population on the
road, it took him eight hours to get to Baton Rouge. His brother's two-bedroom
home there would shelter 14 family members, four dogs, and one cat for
the next three-and-a-half weekstwo without electricity.
On Monday, Katrina hit as a Category 3 storm and left the city looking
like it had suffered only high wind damage. The party on Bourbon Street
was just getting underway when the levees failed and the city filled
with water. The Lakeview neighborhood, near the 17th Street Canal levee
breach, was under 10 feet of water, a foot higher than Daigrepont's
shop. About a month later he was able to get back into the city. When
I opened the door of the Kenner store I cried," he said. "There
was no damage. But when I saw the Lakeview store, I laughed. I had never
seen such devastation. Everything paper had turned to pulp. Debris had
floated into the shopchildren's toys, stuffed animals, cans of
pet food, shoes. It was a surreal scene. We had driven in from Baton
Rouge. First, we went to my aunt's house [which was a total loss] to
salvage whatever we could. We decided to go look at Harrison Avenue.
The destruction was beyond belief. It looked as though someone had physically
picked up my entire shop, shook it vigorously like a snow globe, and
then sprayed 3" of muck and mold everywhere. The windows and doors
had been blown out. I had to crawl through a broken window because the
doorway was blocked by tables, moulding, and stuff. Everything was topsy
turvy. A week later, when I went back to muck out the shop, I found
that it had been looted. Some of the tables that had blocked the entrance
were gone. Merchandise that could have been salvaged was missing."
Although Daigrepont didn't have flood insurance, he was covered for
the wind damage the building sustained before it was submerged and for
loss of income. The shop in Kenner wasn't damaged or looted. When it
re-opened, he was able to put his employees back to work immediately.
He and the other picture framers who still had shops were taking in
more business than ever. Customers were replacing art and bringing in
things that needed to be restored. Some objects that survived the hurricane
acquired new meaning and, when framed, became part of post-Katrina decor.
Daigrepont has no plans to reopen the Lakeville location at this time,
though he may entertain the thought in four or five years.
New Orleans Conservation Guild
In May 2005 New Orleans Conservation Guild president Blake Vonder Haar
had moved her operations to a larger building. The10,000 square foot
facility in the Bywater neighborhood near the Mississippi River enabled
her to offer multiple art services under one roof. It housed the Guild,
the Bywater Art Market, New Orleans Art Supply, and the Antique and
Vintage Frame Gallery and Custom Framing Studio. The Saturday before
Katrina hit, Vonder Haar had an appointment that kept her away from
the building in the morning so she returned that afternoon to secure
things. This was her first hurricane season at this location, so she
didn't know what to expect. All records, art supplies, flat files for
storing artwork, and framing equipment were downstairs. The conservation
lab on the second floor had more than a dozen skylights. Vonder Haar
moved everything on the lower level away from windows and doors, while
upstairs she wrapped conservation work in progress in Visquine, placed
it on storage racks, and covered the racks with tarps. Vonder Haar evacuated
New Orleans on Sunday.
Three weeks later she was able to slip back into the city to see how
things were at the Guild and at her home, five blocks away. All the
damage was wind related. Eight skylights were blown off, resulting in
substantial water inside. Equipment was rusted, work tables and sheetrock
walls were swollen, and matboard and tools were ruined. But all artwork
was undamaged. With Hurricane Rita on the way, there was no time to
replace the skylights so Vonder Haar covered the second floor with giant
tarps. Later, she removed about 400 gallons of water that pooled on
the second floor with a ShopVac and a borrowed generator. Her losses
were covered by insurance and she was able to re-open in six weeks.
Vonder Haar must have had a premonition when moving into this area.
What seemed like more than enough space was suddenly flooded
with conservation work. The gallery is now filled with frames, paintings,
objects, and furnituresome damaged almost beyond recognition.
The unique combination of automobile fluids, fresh and salt water, and
whatever else wound up in the floodwaters and has caused reactions in
materials not seen before. Today, business is booming. The entire
city needs new art for their homes, so all the frame shops in town that
I've spoken with are doing great business, she says. This
is a silver lining in all the suffering we've been through.
A.L. Lowe Frames
Doug Mabile, owner of A.L. Lowe Frames, had record sales last August
and was wondering how he and his employees would be able to deliver
orders on schedule. Like everyone in the area, Mabile had only a day
to prepare for Katrina. After wrapping artwork in Visquine and placing
it on work tables, he evacuated to his mother's home in Napoleonville,
70 miles away. When New Orleans flooded, it wasn't clear that he would
have anything to go back to. Telephone service was down. Mabile was
worried about his employees. Miriam Hirsch and Donovan Killeen had worked
with him for 22 and 17 years respectively and were like family. He deposited
a month's wages into their bank accounts.
One day while watching
the news he saw his shop. Some looters had driven a front loader into
a nearby Rite Aid and were shown driving past his shop. It was on dry
ground! It took another six weeks before electricity was restored and
Mabile was allowed to re-open his business. He did get there before
that to make sure that everything was secure and to take photos for
the insurance claim.
Mabile was lucky. His home
and shop were on high ground. While stores nearby were looted, his was
not. And his employees were fine. The roof was torn off the part of
his building leased by a florist shop, but not above his frame shop.
Insurance covered his loss of sales and the minor damage to the building.
Today, business has never been better. A painting of Our Lady of Prompt
Succor by local artist James Mouton remained in the window throughout
the storm. When a CNN reporter asked if Mabile had jazz festival posters
for sale, he went inside, rolled up a poster, handed it to her, and
said, Let everyone know Southern hospitality is alive and well.
In 2003 New York-based AMPF purchased Zinsel, a long-established New
Orleans distributor of framing supplies, and turned it into its second
national call center. On Friday, August 26, 2005 the call center staff
moved everything off the floorto no avail. AMPF lost all its equipment
and 95 percent of its inventory when water rose to about four feet in
the warehouse. Many employees evacuated New Orleans and didn't return.
The loss of data and its entire order center had national consequences.
AMPF finally resumed operations in December and, with support from local
framers, business was brisk.But AMPF was not out of the woods. On February
1, 2006, a tornado ripped the roof off the building. Currently, partial
operations are running out of that facility while construction is being
done to rebuild it. This time, the AMPF staff is keeping their fingers
In Baton Rouge, 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, Thomas Laville of
Laville Frames and employee Adam Breidenbach spent four hours Saturday
morning securing their building against the storm. Baton Rouge didn't
get the severe winds New Orleans had, so Laville was able to get back
to work with a skeleton crew in three days, running generators for six
days until electricity was restored. But he lost touch with several
employees for more than a week. As New Orleans was evacuated, Baton
Rouge became the state's largest city overnight as well as ground zero
for recovery efforts. There were long lines everywhere and more traffic
than the roads could handle. Freight deliveries and shipments were delayed
and phone service was intermittent for more than three weeks.
Laville Frames manufactures
a line of distressed picture frame moulding by reclaiming lumber from
old shotgun houses. The beadboard interior siding and the
studs and joists milled from old growth heart pine and cypress have
lots of character, layers of paint, and history. As a result of Katrina,
Laville Frames suffered a significant loss in sales. Months later, Laville
is still coping with Katrina's consequences.
The biggest problem
for me has been employees," Laville says. "Wages have risen
by 25 percent or more. We normally get about 10 applicants per help
wanted ad for shop help. We have had a total of 11 applicants after
running ads on six different occasions since the storm. We made one
hire but lost two employees to stormrelated work." On the bright
side, there is at least plenty of distressed material coming their way.
Framers throughout the New Orleans area have proven remarkably resilient,
responding with flexibility and equanimity to the unprecedented challenges
presented by Katrina. As Stella Jones of the Stella Jones Gallery, says,
"The city won't get caught unprepared again. And that means having
a disaster plan suitable for your business and location."
Daigrepont, Vonder Haar, and Mabile were fortunate to have businesses
that prospered in post-Katrina New Orleans. Their customer base is mostly
the resident population. They didn't lose any employees, and Vonder
Haar was even able to find qualified conservators willing to relocate
to New Orleans.
For others, it hasn't been
so easy. The rebuilding has created opportunities for laborers to earn
good wages, and that makes it difficult to attract applicants to manufacturing
and service jobs. AMPF and Laville Frames, for example, found it difficult
to hire help.
This year's hurricane season
also finds these framers feeling apprehensive. Mabile says, "I'm
on pins and needles. I'm scared." Daigrepont adds, "Do I feel
safe this year? Not at all. By next year, I'm sure we'll be fineas
long as no hurricane comes near us in 2006."