The Artisans first opened its doors in 1947 serving the then emerging art and antique dealerships of the Cow Hollow and Fillmore districts. Legend has it that the founder was more artisan than businessman spending most of his time making jigs for joining frames. At that time in the industry the trade secrets of how to make beautiful framing was closely guarded, so each shop had to build its own systems. The space had been a linoleum store so it was challenging to convert it into a place where custom frames were made. In the those days all the wood came raw and it was up to each shop to apply finishes to the best of their ability.
In the early 1950's a young couple named Phil and Pat Ellin purchased The Artisans after Phil left the SF Health Department with the help of Joe McCarthy. They ran the store as a mom and pop custom frame shop for 30 years. One tale from the early days of their tenure was that during the first two weeks they were open not one person walked into the store. Union Street was not quite the same then as it is today. The story goes that Phil went out every day and shook hands with as many people as possible to build a cliental. This direct marketing plan worked and the Ellins built a great business over the years. They still specialized in hand crafted finishes and Pat had a marvelous hand for sewing as applied to framing. She used to tell how she would sometimes take in a complex job that she hadn't charged enough for labor costs and this would really get Phil upset. One of the hardest things to do is to get an artist to price their expertise properly.
Under the direction of Phil the store started to offer posters as well as framing, in the late sixties. A feature of Union Street in the seventies was the Poster Alley of the Artisans. All along the driveway and on the back fence hung framed posters with a number on it. If a customer saw one that they wanted they came inside and asked for it by number which produced a rolled poster. The damp weather really messed up the display making it so the posters had to be changed too often to be practical. That is when Poster Alley closed and all the posters came inside. You can still see the sign, if the garage door is open.
In the early eighties Phil and Pat's son Joe Ellin took over running the store. Joe having been raised in the business had a practical approach to running a custom frame shop. He found that people appreciated the best work they could get for the cheapeast price. This made him a very busy person, especially since he was running it solo. Joe also brought in more pre-finished mouldings from back East as well as extruded aluminum moulding. He remembers when the choice of colors for metal were only black and silver. Now a days the choices are staggering. Joe also brought in the images of historic San Francisco that the store is now famous for.
Having worked with his parents from early on, Joe knew how to do many custom finishes and framing techniques. While his favorite was still the simple metal frame he was able to do very complex projects with the help of his staff. Joe worked six plus days a week for many years.
In 1988 Joe Ellin hired the current owner Joe Dellert. Joe D. had just arrived in San Francisco to attend the Art Institute and needed part-time work. Working for the Artisans had started as a way to get through school, but by the time school was finished ten years later, Joe D. became interested in owning his own store. When Joe Ellin learned this he arranged for Joe D. to take over. Having worked there for over twenty years Joe Ellin was ready to take a break.
In 1998 Joe Dellert took over the Artisans ownership ten years after being hired part-time. He embarked in the project of bringing the shop into the 21st century. Using his photography background as a focusing point the store began to offer more original photography as well as posters. Remolding the show room to make it wheelchair accessible and most importantly raised the quality of materials offered to the best in the industry.
The store offers only cotton rag matboard, which is inherently acid-free, UV filtering glass, plexi and museum glass. All the mounting is done in a reversible process that best suits the art. The choice of moulding ranges from the inexpensive metal to the fine finished moulding, such as closed corners frames where the finish is applied after the frame is joined. We have found that our customers prefer quality and service over price, because they understand the value orientation to what we offer.
Constantly on the look out for the latest thoughts on conservation techniques Joe received his CPF from the PPFA in 2000. This is a national certification for picture framers that has to be renewed every four years with further education. Attending annual conventions helps to keep the shop in step with the latest trends and techniques of the industry.
Over the course of the years many famous people have come to The Artisans on both sides of the counter. In the early days one of the framers of great note was Sargent Johnson the painter. Throughout the years many visual artists and musicians have produced the beautiful framing for which The Artisans is known. There have been so many famous customers over the years it would be impossible to list them all. But a few favorites are Nancy Snyderman, Carolyn Tyler, Anita Weissberg, Suzanne Orrick, Mrs. Magowan, Florian Moore, Charles Moore, Kurt and Lani Hammit and Tom Sinkovitz. The thing about The Artisans is that each customer becomes a mini celebrity with us. Over the course of the years we get to know our customers by their first names and they rarely get far without a friendly "hello, we'll be right with you". The Artisans has always been a family business and we look at all of our customers as family, we really care about their happiness. In 2015 after the building on Union street sold Artisans relocated to 2549 irving street in the sunset district.m