Picture Framer and Cyclist
Every morning Lowell Dalton rides his old-school Rivendell racing bicycle from his home on the east side of downtown to his frame shop on First Street, where he enjoys his days as Benicia’s community picture framer. He and his wife Carol purchased Benicia Frame more than 32 years ago, and the store reflects their commitment to quality craftsmanship. In the show room there are dozens of sample frames on view, and in back there’s a workshop where Lowell does the framing himself. From his years in art school, he has an eye for aesthetics and a thorough understanding of the craft, but the art of working with people is what keeps his business running strong.
Everything that comes through his doors is precious in his eyes, and gets treated the same whether it’s an expensive work by a renowned artist like Robert Arneson, Manual Neri and Roy de Forest—or a child’s priceless first drawing. “When someone brings in an image they care about, I like talking to them about what they have. It’s always about the picture, not the frame. I stay humble about the frame.”
Art vs. Craft
Lowell has a fine arts degree from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara where he met his wife, an admired local artist with a studio in the Arsenal. He’s been practicing figure drawing with a group for more than two decades, which he calls a discipline. His career, he says, is nearly as satisfying as artmaking. “There are certain aspects of what I do that is art, but it doesn’t get you all the way home. Framing has a finite sense of variables while the blank canvas has infinite possibilities.”
When he’s not in the shop, there are three primary things that keep him busy: “Gardening and dealing with plants, fishing as long as I can hold out—and art.” He’s grown more than 100 varieties of old roses, grafted numerous fruit trees, and enjoys growing citrus, particularly two types of rare limequats.
A Passion for Fly Fishing
Lowell has been passionate about fly-fishing since the late 1970s, and each year he takes at least two big fishing trips with his brother and/or Carol. In the early days, they fished the Rubicon River or Hell Hole Reservoir in California, and in the 90s they starting venturing farther out to spots like Henry’s Fork on the Snake River in Idaho, and the Madison River in Montana—mostly to catch rainbow trout, and occasionally brook or brown trout.
Like most things Lowell loves to do, fly-fishing took time to learn. “The rhythm of casting can come naturally,” he says. “There’s a beauty in casting, a form, like dancing. But the mystique in being successful is paying dues and learning which fly to use for which fish, and when. Use the wrong fly, and nothing is going to happen.”
Running several miles each day keeps Lowell young at 73, but when he retires he says he’ll have to think about what kind of an artist he’s going to be. In the meantime, he seems certain about one thing: “It’s important to find ways to find beauty in your life.”