Friday, September 11, 2015

Robyn Pocker

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


“A family business is not for the faint of heart,” says Robyn Pocker, owner of J.Pocker, the bespoke framing store on Lexington Avenue. Established by her grandfather in 1926, the business continued under her father until it was eventually passed on to Robyn. She laughed at the idea that joining the business was even a choice, still less a route to fulfillment (“You worked!”) but she is clearly passionate, knowledgeable and serious about that work. “People are entrusting you with the last photo of their grandmother. You need to know what the right thing is to do with that.”

Grandfather, Jacob Pocker, with Robyn's father, Marvin, in front of their first frame shop on 790 Lexington Avenue.
We wanted to talk about the aspect of owning a family business—it’s been three generations, is that right?

Yes. My grandfather came from Russia at the turn of a century. They came, no money, no English, no ... “press 2 for Yiddish”.  Their last name was Podolsky. The name was changed at Ellis Island—we think they meant “Parker” but it became “Pocker”. He got a job with company that did theatrical sets and he learned some carpentry and then he got a job with Mr. Greenwald, a man who made [traveling] trunks.

In those days only the very wealthy traveled and when the season was over, if there was wood left lying around from making the trunks, they did all sorts of things with it, like make picture frames. Finally in 1926 my grandfather went into business on his own. In those days picture framing wasn’t as elaborate or as intellectual as it is now. These were tradesman—it wasn’t people who had got their masters in art.
Robyn's grandfather, Jacob Pocker (right) with his boss in the store where he worked in the 1920s. The store manufactured steamship trunks in high season. In the off-season they created picture frames with the leftover materials.
What was he like, your grandfather?

He was pretty formidable. My grandfather was a tough old guy. He didn’t want to relinquish control. They were successful but they were cautious as every immigrant family was. My father was the baby, there were two older sisters but in those days the guy got the business. My aunts were kind of shunted away—they were both great sales women.

Did your father expand the business?

No—but what he did expand was bringing in art. Dealers would come in and they had connections. This was the Upper East Side, the crème de la crème of New York. When the Second World War started, he went to Europe. He was re-stationed in Manchester where he dated a girl. She had ten sisters and a brother—my father loved them! I just came back from England, visiting that family. We’re now in our fifth generation of love.
Jacob Pocker holding a watercolor by friend and artist Julius Delbos.
Robyn's grandmother, Bessie Pocker.
But he didn’t marry the girl?

No. At the very end of the war he went to Berlin—Hitler had just killed himself the week before and they were the first [of the Allied Forces] to go in to Germany. My grandmother would write to him saying that there were customers in New York who were asking her, “Can he find my uncle? Can he find my aunt?” So my father was in Berlin and in Paris … he would go visit lots of gallery owners and he made a lot of connections. After the war, in the ’50s, he started to bring back lithographs, portfolios, Picasso, Chagall, Leger … he brought back French posters. Those were things people were wrapping the real art in! No one else was doing this kind of thing—especially art posters. No one was selling art posters. He was bringing back armloads, framing them and [they were] selling! That really changed the business.

How was it that you came into the business?

I came from an immigrant family—you worked! There wasn’t, “Do you think you’re going to be fulfilled coming into the family business?” No. It was a golden handcuff. Family business is all about control and who will give it up and who won’t. There’s conflict. There just is.
The entrance to J. Pocker on 63rd Street and Lexington Avenue.
A wall of Robyn and Alan's New York pied-a-terre is dominated by an original print of Turgot's 'Plan de Paris'. The sections are each framed in a simple black wood frame.
A lithographic reproduction of work by Roualt in a copy of a frame used by Picasso as well as a copy of a work by Picasso in an antique frame hang above a comfy living room chair. Both images are from Mourlot Editions in Paris.
A 1950s reproduction of a Picasso by Murlot Editions carries a three-inch antique black frame.
A lithograph by Andre Minaux framed in a gilt frame hangs above a console in the eating area of the pied-a-terre.
Looking beyond a branch of dogwood flowers, an Italian print is displayed in a four-inch wide Dutch frame with an architectural motif. The small English print is in a French mat with an antique black beaded frame.
A copy of a Giacometti drawing in a beveled gold leaf frame hangs near the master bed. Two prints by Oresti Duguel are framed in elegant antiqued gold leaf frames.
In the bathroom, an oil still life is surrounded with a silver leaf and painted panel frame.
And are you fulfilled?

I am. It’s mine. I love watching it grow. I like being the first to do something new. I like going to London and going to an antique frame shop where I find an antique frame that I bring back and we copy it. I like to have something no one else has.

Was your father trained in the art of framing?

No! No! I didn’t go for training either. You need to know … I know because I’ve done it my entire life. But in those days, ’60s and the early ’70s, there was nothing like the selection we have now. The quality is so much better now and the kinds of glass are so much better.

Why is that?

Because there was no conservation framing then. If you wanted a picture frame—there was glass.
In Robyn's office hangs a group of prints (left to right) by Andre Minaux , Josef Zaritsky, and Cathelin, all in minimal gold leaf frames.
A painting of Robyn's favorite view of Jerusalem by Avner Moriah in a floating gold leaf frame hangs above a photograph of the Statue of Liberty with its hands held high. The photograph was printed in the New York Times the day after 9/11. A print by Sonia Delauney hangs above a 1959 drawing of the inside of J. Pocker by Emilio Sanchez. Both are displayed in gold leaf frames.
A master plan by Catherine Brophy that was completed for the feng shui renovation of the current store.
Robyn at work.
The second floor of J.Pocker offers a vast array of ready-to-be-framed artwork.
A selection of botanicals by Mark Catesby has been framed in silver leaf with a black clay undercoat.
More art, ready-to-go.
Looking down Lexington Avenue from the upstairs gallery of J. Pocker.
The original J. Pocker store sign.
The walls of the downstairs gallery display an almost dizzying selection of framing possibilities.
A selection of portrait and mirror frames including a stunning faux tortoise Dutch style frame as well as a collection of Stanford White frames.
French inspired gilt frames.
An introductory selection of gilt silver and gilt frames hang near the front entrance to the store.
American hardwood frames.
A case of small frames for snapshots are perfect gift items.
A 1960s watercolor of the J. Pocker storefront by Italian artist Rudolfo Marma is framed in a burl wood and inlay frame.
What do you know that an average frame store doesn’t know?

We know what the correct period [frame] it is that goes on that painting. If I go to an average frame store with a mirror they’re not going to say, “We have beveled glass; we have slightly spotty glass; do you want Venetian glass …?” We’re going to ask people if they want eight or ten kinds of glass. You need a sales team who knows all the possibilities. Our sales team all have art backgrounds and they’re much more conversant than I am in contemporary art. I’m much more tradish.

Why is period so important, more so than aesthetics perhaps?

You’re looking to understand the period—you’re looking for the frame not to show that much. And everything you frame now must be reversible. In my father’s day, everything was glued down.

Do you ever talk to artists about framing? What are their views on it?

Yes, we do talk to artists. I think they kind of listen to our views, actually.
Peeking into the living room of Robyn and her husband, Alan Rice's Westchester living room. The lithograph is by Cathelin and was given to Robyn and Alan as a wedding present in 1978. It is framed in a classic gold leaf Swan frame.
A 1963 oil landscape painting by Italian artist Rodolfo Marma is framed in gold leaf.
'La Sorciere' a French 19th century poster of Sarah Bernhardt by Louise Abbema is showcased in an oversized gold leaf frame.
A group of boxes collected over the years is arranged atop a skirted table in the living room.
The living room coffee table displays books that reflect Robyn and Alan's interest in travel and the Jewish culture.
The dining room: Robyn and her family hold weekly Shabbat dinners. Hanging on the walls are a series of reproductions of flora and fauna by artist and German-born naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. They are framed with French mats and classical Louis XVI frames.
A lithograph by Georges Braque is framed in a traditional silver leaf frame.
A watercolor by French artist Marie Laurencin is in an antiqued gold leaf frame.
A painting of a watermelon is framed in an American maple frame.
A view across the kitchen eating area into the study. Hanging on the walls of the kitchen eating area is a series of antique botanicals with French mats and maple frames.
A vintage poster for British Railways hangs in a cherry wood frame.
Framed family photos.
In one of several guest rooms, botanical prints by 17th-century English naturalist Mark Catesby are displayed in a gold leaf frame with a Dutch motif.
A colorful lithograph in a simple gold frame is by artist Charles Lapique.
At the end of the bedroom hall a lithograph by Cathelin hangs in a three-inch hand painted green frame.
A cheerful oil painting by the father of Robyn's mother is framed in an antique French frame.
I was at the Frieze Fair and I go to Chelsea galleries quite often—there doesn’t seem to be much framed work any more.

At the Frieze there isn’t because there’s a lot of objects. But I have a big staff to support so we have to encourage framed work.

What is your own taste in art?

I’m a more traditional girl as you can see … but in my next home, it’s going to be more contemporary.
A collection of hand colored English engravings hangs in a variety of frames.
In a guest bathroom, botanical prints in marbleized
paper mat and antiqued gold-leaf frames.
To the right of the mirror is a landscape painting of the Central Park Conservancy garden in a silver leaf frame.
A naïve winter scene by Jacob Pocker is displayed in a gold leaf robe and white painted panel frame.
A watercolor of a beach scene by a close friend of Robyn is framed in polished walnut. "That scene is my retirement goal," says Robyn.
Three early 16th century botanical prints by Emanuel Sweert with silk mats and Louis XVI frames hang above the master bed.
A scene of the Grand Canal in Venice by artist Behrens is in a gold leaf frame.
On the far wall, a lithograph by Josef Zaritsky is in a simple gold leaf frame.
An abstract lithograph by Josef Zaritsky in a silver leaf frame hangs near a small watercolor of Robyn's favorite hydrangea flowers.
In the enclosed porch a pair of reproduction botanicals are framed with green French mats and painted white frames.
Fresh flowers perk up of corner of the enclosed porch.
In the backyard mature trees surround and outside patio with a set of antique iron furniture that belonged to Robyn's mother.
This pair of robins was a recent purchase from the Chelsea Flower Show.
And where is your next home going to be?

Hopefully Jerusalem.

Really? Why do you want to live in Jerusalem?

Because that’s really where my heart’s going to be. I could go on about this forever.

Go on then.

I’m Orthodox (I didn’t grow up Orthodox) and I feel that is where I belong. I want to live in the rhythm of a Jewish society. Twenty-five years ago, I took my mother to Israel and we had a hotel room overlooking this square and this little traffic circle. On Friday morning, there’s tons of traffic. The Sabbath is coming. People are shopping, they’ve got bags, they’re going to the big food market, rushing and rushing all around, they’re buying flowers and special food. And then by one o’clock, there aren’t so many cars on the road. And by three o’clock, the streets are pretty much empty. And at five o’clock, an hour before the Sabbath starts, a siren goes off to tell everybody that it is coming. All the shops are closed. The rhythm is quiet. You can see it. It’s in the air. It is an island in time.