In the frame: Dave Marsh outside his framing studio

Dave Marsh’s picture frames grace walls around the world. The Queenstowner tells Philip Chandler how he eventually found his calling and how he stays at the top of his game framing artworks.

In his early 20s, Dave Marsh was “bored stiff” working in an English factory making picture frame mouldings.

At the front of the factory, however, was a retail framing outlet which he walked through every morning.

“I can remember where I was standing and what music was playing when I thought, ‘one day I’m going to have a picture framing business’.”

Though Marsh, 58, is now New Zealand’s most-qualified and award-winning picture framer, he says that thought totally left him at the time.

Growing up in England, he’d moved with his parents to NZ when he was 15, but says he never settled and returned after finishing his schooling.

Besides his factory job, he took on a myriad others over there – like flying for the Royal Air Force, public relations work for the Williams and McLaren Formula One motor racing teams, then, after studying computer science, developing GSI software.

Before that last incarnation, he had also run three photographic art galleries in United States ski resorts Vail and Beaver Creek.

“This business was a cash-cow and that really tweaked my imagination.”

He was drawn back to NZ in 1995 after his mother, then living in Wanganui, developed cancer.

“For the first time, NZ became home, in my mind.”

He decided to move to Queenstown to start a landscape panorama photographic business, after learning the resort was NZ’s version of Vail.

The only trouble was he’d spent all his money on camera and darkroom equipment for the business, and only had $425 in his pocket.

Needing to find work immediately, he became a Nomad Safaris driver, then became transport manager for the then Pipeline Bungy.

“My back started to deteriorate, which forced me to start looking for a different avenue down which to go.”

While in Wellington visiting his sister, her partner invited him to join him when popping to a picture framing warehouse to buy mat board.

Looking at thousands of moulding samples and mat boards, “my eyes nearly popped out of my head”, Marsh says.

“Two hours and about $20,000 later, I had started the foundations of a picture framing business.”

He started the business part-time, from home, while keeping his full-time job, but broke out on his own six to nine months later.

“Until this business, I had never found the ‘x’ factor that’s given me the level of passion that I had been looking for.”

In ’99, March shifted to an historic Stanley Street villa once occupied by the town’s sole GP Dr Bill Anderson and his wife Molly Anderson.

“I thought all my birthdays had come at once – the location was phenomenal.”

Over 16 years, however, the villa – demolished in 2016 – badly deteriorated.

Towards the end, he invested a seven-figure sum on buying and redeveloping the former Rafters Barn property at Arthurs Point, which the previous owner had half-converted to a pub.

Marsh would not have not have taken on this risk without “extremely high-quality business mentoring”, he says, from a friend who’s since died.

After opening The Framing Studio, he was encouraged by a Brisbane-based, English-born artist acquaintance, Gordon Hanley, to use the extra space for an art gallery.

His Aurum Gallery, with the tag-line, ‘the art of realism’, is now one of only two galleries to exhibit his work.

Marsh calls Hanley, who’s resurrected the renaissance art of metalpoint, “one of the best artists in the world”.

Recently, he’s also started showing Kiwi artist Craig Primrose.

Marsh, however, says framing remains his bread and butter, and that he’s become increasingly busy with national and international, as well as local clients, often communicating with them on Facetime.

Having found his passion, he says he also sought to be the best he could be.

After 10 years, he’s still NZ’s only Master Certified Picture Framer.

He’s also won and placed in Australian competitions, and regularly attends trade shows worldwide – “I leave those shows as if I’ve got brand-new batteries”.

“I feel very privileged to have the opportunity, relatively late in my life, to build a really solid foundation for a good retirement.”

Using his design knowledge and eye for detail, he says his aim with picture framing is “to create magnificence, so that when the client sees it they go, ‘oh, wow’.”