Waller: ‘People today think of a framer as being in a mall somewhere and cutting factory moldings’
Bill Waller is celebrating a major milestone: 50 years as a distinguished framer.
“It’s kind of embarrassing when you tell somebody you’re a picture framer. People today think of a framer as being in a mall somewhere and cutting factory moldings all day,” Waller reflects in his expansive workshop, located these days in the very heart of Hume.
“I’m a mastodon, there aren’t too many real framers anymore. People don’t make frames from raw wood.”
Perhaps the title “artistic woodworker” would be a better fit for Waller, although the thousands of working artists and everyday people who have flocked to the framer’s traveling workshops over the last half century — from his original studio in Foggy Bottom to Mount Gilead, The Plains, Middleburg and now Hume — know exactly who he is and what he can accomplish:
Waller brings everything he frames to life.
He gives every customer equal and undivided attention, whether they are proud parents preserving their children’s kindergarten drawings or athletic achievements, graduates wanting proper mats and mountings for diplomas, or an artist like Brenda Van Ness of Gid Brown Hollow seeking a complementing frame to make her landscape pop out of the wall.
“Just the good ones,” Waller describes his diverse client base. “I don’t see that many people here, but I see the good ones.”
Here meaning Hume, where Waller — a student of the Corcoran College of the Art and Design in Washington and Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where he studied under the “Hemingway of Hardwood” Sam Maloof, crowned by the Smithsonian as “America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman” — relocated his workshop from Middleburg so he could be nearer to his terminally ill wife, Sperryville artist Jill Fetterman, who passed away in August 2015 after a courageous battle against cancer.
“Jill is the closest friend I ever had in my life,” says the framer, who shares his home in Hume with the couple’s 19-year-old son, Noah. “She died in my arms.”
Having reached a youthful version of 71, many of Waller’s favorites are gone: Fetterman, Maloof, and numerous clients who included horse breeder Paul Mellon and his art-collecting wife Bunny, the renowned horticulturist who designed and planted the White House Rose Garden, among other significant parklike settings around the country.
Bunny’s green thumb rubbed off on her framer friend. The three acres surrounding his Hume home and workshop he has transformed into a fairyland of picket-fenced fruit and vegetable gardens teeming with gooseberries and plums, handmade birdhouses and passion flower greenhouses that provide lettuce when it snows, shaded by exotic plants and trees like the handkerchief, bottlebrush buckeye and China fir.
Along the garden trails Waller’s framing saws have rendered two miniature whimsical structures, one a beautifully handcrafted library of art books and reading chairs, the other just large enough to squeeze in a cozy bed and nightstand.
It’s no wonder his overnight guests have included award-winning garden, landscape and architecture author and photographer Roger Foley; and cultural landscape historian, author and Guggenheim fellow Mac Griswold, the principal partner of Charlotte’s Web Interiors.
“When I can I want to be in my garden and enjoy nature,” Waller says. “But I’ve got frame ideas I’m always working on now, and things like little art pieces, mirrors and what have you that I’ll make and sell here, and if I don’t I’ll sell them elsewhere.”
Waller acknowledges that business can be slow in Hume, which at this stage of his career suits him just fine given the time it allows for tending the gardens. Still, the welcome mat is always out, especially for his many friends in Rappahannock County who might enjoy visiting his one-of-a-kind workshop, filled with rare types of wood, antique hand planes, and plenty of curiosities and other unique items, framed or otherwise. And hopefully, he says, people will bring an item or two to be framed.
Be sure to allow for extra time, because the first place Waller leads visitors is into his magical gardens.
Waller Picture Framing is located minutes from Crest Hill Road at 11600 Hume Road in Hume. Phone in advance to 540-660-9282.