Heritage Businesses in WNY / Meibohm Fine Arts
Keeper of the frame
Grace Meibohm in the East Aurora frame shop.
Contemporary photos by Nancy J. Parisi
478 Main Street, East Aurora
Framing shop and art gallery
How old: 117 years old
How many employees: 4
“This is my first day of work,” says Grace Meibohm, pointing to a black and white snapshot in a thick family scrapbook of photographs, vintage advertisements, and press clippings. The 1961 photograph shows Grace as an infant in the arms of her beaming father, Walter, next to her mother, Betty, — and in front of the family business: Walter Meibohm Fine Arts.
Walter and Betty had relocated their family business to East Aurora four years earlier, in 1957, after its successful and long run on Connecticut Street on Buffalo’s west side. Grace’s grandfather, Carl H. Meibohm, first hung out his shingle in 1901.
Archival images provided by Grace Meibohm tell the story of the gallery’s move from Buffalo to East Aurora.
First wanting a piece of the booming Victorian bicycle business in Buffalo, Carl, with an associate, opened a cycle shop when he was in his early twenties. Soon after, in 1901, Meibohm’s The Art Shop was opened at 324 Connecticut Street. Carl’s first sales included many of his own photographic images of the hot event happening across town: The Pan-American Exposition.
In addition to his own work, Carl displayed and sold artwork made by other artists, as well as mass-produced prints, art objects, and fine stationery. Needing more space for and expanding inventory and framing business, Meibohm and his wife, Pearl, built another, larger building next door at 326 Connecticut Street. Fun fact: 326 Connecticut Street was sold to the Villardo family, who still own and operate a printing business there today.
Meibohm, now in its 117th year, remains a twofold business: art shows/sales and fine framing. The gallery is located in a former home at 478 Main Street, East Aurora. This is where Grace features six to eight art exhibitions of regional artists per year, with online operations happening in an upstairs office. Behind the gallery, in a separate, two-story building, there is a framing workshop as well as more artwork for sale.
A tour of the workshop reveals hundreds of vintage frames upstairs, while the downstairs area is reserved for art restorations and custom framing. Stacks of old cigar boxes from Walter’s era hold antique pieces of hardware.
“My parents were older; I was a surprise later in life, Grace recalls. “When I got out of college, I came into the business. I didn’t take over right away, and it was wonderful to have my parents here, well into their eighties, advising. My dad was here chatting with people the day before he passed away. Today we do a tremendous amount of framing: residential and commercial. We also do conservation work.”
When asked about what she thinks her grandfather would think about how Meibohm Fine Arts is run today, Meibohm says, “My grandfather would recognize what we are doing, absolutely, and he would be happy that we are still using his hand tools for framing. There are some things that technology has not improved on. We have also improved and kept up with archival standards.”
Regarding the future, Grace says, “I’m shooting for a 125th anniversary, at least—that will be in 2026,” and she notes that her grandfather’s early business motto still holds: “We make picture frames as they should be made. Perfect workmanship is our hobby. In framed and unframed pictures, we’ve got what you are looking for.”