When Jo Bray decided her collection of Sid Dickens hand-painted memory blocks needed to be displayed in a special way in her new home, she took the project to Doug Topolski, co-owner of Right Angle Frame Shop & Gallery.
“I learned through this that Doug is a perfectionist,” Bray said. “He was so careful about this project. He created individual hooks for each piece and each piece is mounted separately and perfectly. He took his time deciding where every tile would be placed.”
Doug began framing at his mother’s shop in 1984, when he was 14. He worked his way through college in Arizona framing for art galleries in Scottsdale. After five years in marketing in Arizona and then another seven doing some framing in New York, he headed home to Paducah.
He considers this framing job one of his masterpieces. “You can’t even imagine how much went into it,” Topolski said. “I had to adjust the degree of the angle of each hook and then screw it in a certain depth because all the tiles were different thicknesses. It took a solid week of work.
“I did a faux finish with stenciled fleur de lis and decorative corners. It’s really subtle. I didn’t want to do a sloppy, sponged background. I textured it so that it’s as if you are looking at clouds, so that it has a lot of character instead of just a uniform, monotonous texture. You only see parts of it around the tiles, but it does give it a nice effect,” he explained.
The combined result of Topolski’s skill and the 54 tiles is a stunning piece of art. The blocks are hand crafted plaster, 6" x 8" x 1 1/4", finished to a porcelain-like quality, cracked to create an aged look and feel. A deep frame that had been handcrafted in Italy holds the work together. The finished product weighs almost 450 pounds. The outside dimension of the completed frame is 8 ½’ by 4 ½’.
Bray’s good friend since elementary school days launched her on the collection, and she has been hooked since. Besides the 54 tiles that are mounted together, she has collected each family member’s Zodiac sign and has some at their home in Columbus, OH. She recently began collecting the new gold-embellished pieces.
Memory blocks are produced by a group of 30 emerging artists in the Sid Dickens studio space in Vancouver, Canada. Each memory block is hand-poured hydrostone plaster. After they are poured, each tile is hand painted and different finishes are applied, silver and gold leafing is done by hand, and finally hand-stained.
A special message accompanies each tile, and Bray says that was a big part of the reason she collected the tiles she did. “This one George (her husband) gave me for Valentine’s Day,” she said with a smile as she points to a block that features the Ace of Hearts. “The message is: ‘One rich in love is forever victorious.’”
Only a collector for less than ten years, Bray said it’s amazing how her love for the art has developed. “They accumulate faster than you might think,” she added with a laugh. “I’m just so pleased with the way Doug did this. It just makes them even more special.”
Topolski credits Bray with her willingness to invest enough to bring the project to life.
“I have to give credit to Jo, who really had the vision and was willing to do what it took to show the collection off. Whenever I do a huge project like that it’s great to have creative license. I was able to go with the flow. She just let me go for it.”