“You can only make a frame so many ways, but I’m constantly trying to think of something a little different.”
When driving through the small northern town of Crosby, N.D., one might find themselves at the local pizza place. Just west of that, in an old brick storefront, might be blaring neon lights enticing a curiosity for just what lies past the “Frames by Ryan James” sign hanging in the window.
If the light is on, chances are Ryan Anderson is around. He might be scrolling his phone while drinking a glass-bottled Coke or working on one of his hand-crafted frames in the front shop that has become his “comfort food” space, a storefront filled with band concert posters and tattoo flash art adorned by stained wood frames.
Anderson works with his dad at Bert’s Woodworks, a construction business that occupies the back two thirds of what was once an old laundromat. Having worked on countless woodworking projects in his dad’s workshop, Anderson mixed his craft with his interests to start making frames for the pop-culture art pieces he enjoys collecting. With some encouragement from friends, Anderson took his hobby a step further to begin Frames by Ryan James.
“It’s kind of my escape,” Anderson said. “I’ll work during the day and then usually come back to the shop at night. My dad has thankfully kind of given me free rein over the shop and I’ve taken over the front room.”
His dad, Bert Anderson, the District 2 Representative for North Dakota, is gone from time-to-time while legislature is in session. And while the construction work slows in the cold winter days, working on his frames has given Anderson something to do during the downtime.
“I have a lot of frames, it’s a little ridiculous,” Anderson laughed. “But the nice thing about the whole thing is that I genuinely really love doing it, so it doesn’t feel like work. So, I think that’s a good thing.”
Working with wood goes back a few generations as Anderson’s grandpa, James Anderson, had tinkered in frame making many years ago, mainly working with barnwood, and calling the side business Frames by James. Inheriting his grandpa’s namesake as his middle name, Anderson named his own shop as an ode to his grandpa.
“When I started, I thought if I was going to have a name, that would be the perfect thing as a little tip-of-the-cap to (grandpa),” Anderson said. “He had this little corny clipart thing at one of his shows he had — the most basic computer fonts. We have it hanging in the front room. It’s kind of fun.”
To keep the artwork of his frames in place, Anderson secures the backboard with a staple gun that puts in glazier points — the same tool that his grandpa used. Although there may be other ways to do this step, Anderson revels in the sentimentality of this process.
“We have a picture of my grandpa in the front of the shop … using this exact tool,” Anderson said. “To other people it doesn’t mean anything, but to me, I love using that little thing knowing that that’s what my grandpa used.”
Anderson works with barnwood, but his own personal style comes out when using oak, maple and alder — sometimes pieces found in the woodworking shop — with different stain colors. He has also recently dabbled in the more exotic woods of purple heart and padauk.
“You can only make a frame so many ways,” Anderson said. “But, I’m constantly trying to think of something a little different.”
Frames by Ryan James’ brand is matched well with its product. Friend, Nathaniel Navratil, a graphic designer out of Fargo, designed the logo and turtle graphic for the shop. One day, Anderson’s nephew held one of the frames to his head and proclaimed, “I’ve been framed!” Thus, bore the idea for the mural now painted on the side of the building. Anderson pitched the idea to Roderick Schofield, a local artist in Crosby, and he took it from there.
“He’s so talented,” Anderson said of Schofield. “He did the painting based off a t-shirt that had the logo on the back. I’m just kind of blown away at how spot on it is.”
The mural is of a turtle, attached to a ball and chain, holding a frame that says, “I’ve been framed.” Passersby are encouraged to grab a frame, take a photo and post it to Frames by Ryan James’ social media accounts.
Anderson takes custom orders to his shop and welcomes people to come in and look around if they happen to find themselves in Crosby. There are no set hours, as a sticker on the front window says “If I’m here, I’m open. If I’m not, I’m closed.” But if the neon light is on, chances are Anderson is inside.
“The front room of the shop is kind of like comfort food to me,” Anderson said. “It’s stuff that I like the looks of, I like the frames, the artwork. It just puts me at peace. It’s where I spend most of my time.”
The shop’s address has the same rural America feel as its business hours; the business cards simply state, “just west of the pizza place.”
This art-driven, hand-crafted frame shop may be the last thing one would expect to stumble upon in Crosby, as one passerby has told Anderson, but Frames by Ryan James is an off-beat gem, offering a unique and custom product born out of a genuine love for the process.
To view his work or to contact Anderson, visit “Frames by Ryan James” on Facebook or Instagram.