A cowboy's 'frame' of mind

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“Cowboy” Jim Reneau shows off a mosaic he recently matted and framed. He brings a variety of art to life through his McGregor business, Cowboy Jim’s Art Gallery. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

When matting, Cowboy Jim explained it’s important to pull out subtle colors in the image.

Cowboy Jim enjoys re-purposing materials like barn boards, flooring, windows and old picture frames when framing customers’ pieces. “You want something that has character,” he said.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Framing is an important component to protecting any piece of art, preserving photographs, prints, paintings and mementos from both natural and human elements. But it’s also a way to enhance the art, bringing out colors, details and new perspectives.

“Sometimes, you bring it back to life,” said “Cowboy” Jim Reneau.

A native Texan with a ready smile and long gray beard and ponytail, Cowboy Jim is nicknamed for his southern drawl and trademark cowboy hat. When he was younger, he learned the art of framing and matting while running an art business with his mother in Greenville, Texas. After years of working on conveyers, cooking and performing other jobs, Cowboy Jim got back to what he does best two years ago, opening Cowboy Jim’s Art Gallery at 226 Main St., in McGregor.

At the time, said Cowboy Jim, Past 100 Years antique store owner Marty Kahler planned to discontinue matting and framing at his McGregor business.

“He had all this equipment—a mat cutter, glass cutter, chop saw,” detailed Cowboy Jim, so he decided to scoop it up.

“All of a sudden, I had all this equipment,” he continued, “so I ordered some mat board and prints.”

Cowboy Jim selected a variety of prints that he found personally appealing, as well as prints he thought would be attractive to locals and visitors—like wildlife, flowers, old cars. The prints, along with many flea market items, are displayed in the gallery space, available for purchase. And he can order most any print to suit a customer’s decorative style.

His real joy, though, comes in matting and framing the pieces customers bring in.

“It’s mainly up to the customers,” how they’d like the final product to look, said Cowboy Jim. “But some don’t know what they want, so I help them out and help them design it.”

When matting, Cowboy Jim explained it’s important to pull out subtle colors in the image. He uses a crimson and orange sunset photograph as an example.

“I wouldn’t use orange,” he suggested. Blue would be a better choice, pulling out the azure remnants of the daytime sky. “Then maybe black or white for the inner mat. It’s all in what the picture is.”

For a three-photo collage of bobolink birds, Cowboy Jim shies away from using the black in the birds’ shiny feathers. He envisions a sandy brown mat instead, playing into the brown plant stalks on which the bobolinks are perched.

“Then an eighth-inch of yellow to pop the color” on the tops of their heads, he stated. “Sometimes you’re surprised at what it does.”

The same level of detail goes into selecting the framing. 

Cowboy Jim has access to a variety of moulding, but prefers to re-purpose materials like barn boards and old flooring and windows. 

“I want a good, solid hard wood,” he said.

Large, old picture frames are also a favorite. He can cut costs by reusing the glass and take apart the frame to suit a smaller piece. Cowboy Jim likes that this makes the work unique.

“You don’t want it to be perfect,” he shared. “You want something that has character.”

“You can’t often find this wood,” he added. “It’s a rare deal.”

In addition to matting and framing photographs and prints, Cowboy Jim has also preserved mosaics, sea shells and vintage handkerchiefs. His personal collection includes a framed and matted set of clay drink chips from the old Main Entrance bar in Prairie du Chien.

“I like special things,” he said, and he likes making artwork special for his customers. “When they come in to pick it up, they’re so happy. It’s rewarding.”

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