I have custom picture framed many things in my life. From sew mounting a 24 by 36 inch Peruvian head dress to planning small multiple opening matted family photographs with frame I take care and pride in the work I do. More than that, people trust me with their precious items.
On occasion a *custom order stands out from the rest.
A woman recently came into the frame shop in search of a solution for framing ink prints of both hands and feet of her dead grand daughter. The black prints were on cotton. There was also an accompanying drop of blood on this white cotton. I suggested heat setting the prints, before she poured the planned thick coat of varnish over top of them in her shadow box collage, to set the ink in case it ran after the application of varnish. She left the store with the tiny 6 by 6 inch cotton and returned the following day with her shadow box. She showed me what she wanted to do. I said dry mounting to foam core would heat set the ink. I measured the inside of the shadow box at 12 by 12 inches. She placed the cotton and the other baby memorabilia where she wanted them, forming her collage and I punched those measurements into the framing computer system.
She paid for the mounting, gathered her shadow box, pictures and dried flowers then left. There was this smell. A smell I was unfamiliar with that came unbidden whenever the cotton was exposed… as though life or death was holding onto and surrounding the frame shop. I sandwiched these little feet, hands and blood into cardboard, numbered the bin and thought how sorry I was for this little still born soul. With the picture of the dead baby ringing clear in my mind from a few moments earlier I worked silently.
A couple of days ago I dry-mounted this order. Upon opening the cardboard the smell loomed. I cut the foamcore to 12 by 12 inches. I turned the dry mount machine on. I carefully placed the little hands, feet and blood stain a half inch from the bottom in the center on top of the foamcore. I tacked it on one corner with the heat gun adhering it to the board, lifted the seven foot long machine cover and placed this tiny order in the center. I closed the lid. I clasped the sides. Set the machine to three minutes and 150˚ Fahrenheit and hit start. I prayed.
It was quiet in the frame shop that Tuesday evening. The calm before the Christmas storm.
Three minutes later… beep. BEEP. BEEP…
I hit stop.
Another 12 seconds pass as I wait for the machine to decompress. I open the lid and lift the light green protective covers revealing these perfect little black ink prints of both hands and feet with blood stain mounted to foamcore. The smell is gone. The cotton now smooth, flat and heat set. The water in my eyes dry and I breath in life again.
Her memory will forever live on now.
*The exact details of this custom order have been changed to protect the identity of all those involved save for myself.