With a personal touch, third generation craftsman turns custom framing into an art

by Wendell Ward

Custom framing is an art unto itself. When a skilled designer utilizes quality materials and superior craftsmanship to create the perfect showcase for favorite images and keepsakes, the results can be stunning. Watercolors and original oils, photographs, collages, posters, ephemera, memorabilia—the list is as vast and varied as the imagination.

Master craftsman Dave Reifel, owner of Great Bridge Frame & Art, promises his customers: “If you want something presented on your wall in a way that highlights its uniqueness and beauty, I can put a frame around it. I really love the challenge of creating a frame where the piece takes center stage, and the mats and frame compliment its expression.”

Formerly Poor Man’s Frame Shop, Great Bridge Frame & Art is in the heart of Great Bridge, and has been serving the Hampton Roads community since 1978.

“The original owner was my boss and mentor for close to 20 years,” Dave reflects. “When he passed, I had a decision to make: walk away and retire, or continue on in the business I love. It took me about four minutes to decide. I love framing art. So I took over ownership. With a new name and a new look, I’ve committed myself to maintaining the same principles as our original store: affordably priced custom framing with focused attention on our customers’ needs and wishes. In fact, the motto we live by is: ‘Custom doesn’t have to be expensive.’ ”

Dave is a third generation artisan. His grandfather worked in the Pierce-Arrow auto plant in Buffalo, New York, pin-striping most of the fine autos built there. His father was a woodworker, furniture-maker, and carpenter who helped build many homes, including the one Dave grew up in. He and his wife of over 35 years, Leslie, moved to this area about 25 years ago. Continuing his family tradition, they recently finished their own custom-designed log home—completing the interior with stonework, flooring, and designing and installing the kitchen and baths.

Dave thrives on working with his hands, and he and his wife, Leslie, recently finished their custom log home in Shilo

Dave was in New York when he first started creating frames – honing his skills at woodworking and glass-cutting. A classically trained musician who graduated from the renowned Crane School of Music, he has intertwined his love of the arts with his love of framing. His musician’s hands handle delicate glass and other materials with dexterity and strength, and he brings over 40 years of framing experience to Great Bridge Frame & Art. “The process of framing a piece is something I continue to enjoy even after all these years,” Dave says. “Again, the challenge is to add to the presentation without taking any interest away from the piece itself. I do my best to find out what my customers really want,  and then use my skill and knowledge to ensure their ultimate satisfaction.”

“My regular customers... come into the store,
drop off a stack of photographs,
and leave the rest to me.
I pick out the mat, cut the glass, and give them a call
when it is ready for pick up.”

—Dave Reifel

In addition to two-dimensional works of art, Dave frames all sorts of special projects, each with their own unique requirements: music and sports memorabilia, 3-D shadow boxes, heirlooms, embroidery, and even military encasements. “I want my customers to be happy with their pieces,” Dave assures. “Essentially, whatever project I do for them is going to be a keepsake – and an important part of their home. It is a very rewarding process, especially when they see their item for the first time. And I can make the process convenient. My regular customers, some of whom have been with me for over 20 years, have an established trust. They will come into the store, drop off a stack of photographs, and leave the rest to me. I pick out the mat, cut the glass, and give them a call when it is ready for pick up.”

Artist Jim Todd, who opened Gallery 21 in downtown Norfolk, has been a devoted customer of Dave’s for many years. “Dave is an artist with true talent,” Jim says. “His frames are masterful. The artwork I do is Sumi-e, which is an East Asian style of ink drawing on rice paper, obviously very delicate. Dave treats my pieces as if they were his own. With framing, if I’m specific about a design aspect, Dave delivers. If I say, ‘surprise me,’ he amazes.”

Dave frames sports and military memorabilia, original oils, shadow boxes, photographs, and collages

All the tools of Dave’s trade are kept on-site. A computerized mat cutter that can handle multiple openings and designs, and several kinds of glass ranging from the standard UV protected glass to anti-reflective and museum glass. Over the years, Dave has worked with it all.

“One of the projects that I completed recently was a collection of wrestling medals that a woman wanted to have put together and encased for her husband. It was a collection that spanned his high school and college wrestling career. When they saw it unwrapped for the first time, they just stood there and couldn’t say a word. A beautiful moment to be sure.”

First time customers will be pleased and surprised at the amount of artwork framed and ready to be framed available for purchase in the store. Great Bridge Frame & Art is an exclusive dealer of P. Buckley Moss, Casey Holtzinger (historical local scenes from Norfolk and Virginia Beach pre-1950), and the works of John Barber, to name a few. All of the lighthouses from Maine to Florida, nautical scenes, ships, planes, antique maps, and old photographs are located throughout the store.

“We really do have an eclectic mix,” Dave mentions, motioning to a contemporary 3-D piece. “Truly something for everyone: original works of art, Civil War pieces, shipyard scenes from the turn of the century, stock certificates from the railroad, pieces featuring trains, wildlife images, golf-related pieces, inexpensive posters. There is much to be discovered within these walls.”

Dave can also apply his skills to repair. “I am very pleased with the work that Dave has done for me” customer Jarrett Heller says. “Initially, I was not sure that my photo would survive the process of being re-framed. Dave handled this old photograph of my grandfather’s from when he was first serving in the United States Navy back in 1945. The photo itself was adhered to the glass and the size of the photo was unusual. Not only was Dave able to reframe this picture for me while keeping it intact, he has preserved a piece of my family history.”

“There is just something special about this area,” Dave concludes. “People here are so friendly, and working in such a tight-knit community has been a true joy. We’ve been here a long time, and are the epitome of a small, local business. I’m interested in providing my customers with individual attention, and value that one-on-one relationship. Each day brings something new, and the possibility to earn the trust of another customer.”

Great Bridge Frame & Art

316 S. Battlefiield Blvd
Chesapeake, VA 23322