Original article in Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) Connect February 2023 newsletter.
Alethea Barras, CPF, manager of Barnel’s–The Art and Framing Gallery, in Lafayette, La., pictured here with one of her framed creations, is the second generation in the business, founded in 1985 by her parents Barbara and Nelson Landry.
A math and home economics teacher, at heart Barbara Landry was an artist who enjoyed painting and experimenting with different mediums and surfaces. She and her husband launched Barnel’s as a place to sell her art. She went on to frame her artwork and in 1989, Barnel’s focus expanded from selling Barbara’s art to creating custom picture frames for clients.
“Barbara would paint and Nelson would woodwork,” Alethea says.
Alethea is pictured with a custom triple frame created with Rhonda Feinman. The custom tile image was transported from Spain by a priest who, after losing his leg, had a prosthetic made and walked the Camino de Santiago.
Barnel’s has grown to become one of Acadiana’s largest custom picture framing shops; and in addition to custom picture framing and canvas stretching, sells fine art originals and prints, custom window treatments, and an increasing selection of home accessories and gifts.
Growing up in a business brought a unique perspective, Alethea notes.
“There were so many things at a younger age that simply made sense to me on how to run a business,” she says, adding that she currently is in ongoing coaching sessions with Elevare International to grow as a leader within the organization.
With a degree in business management from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, Alethea originally came on board at her parents’ shop as an accountant/bookkeeper, working part time while in college and full time after graduating in 1995.
Then in the mid-to late 90s, Barbara (pictured here) was in an auto accident that made it more difficult to work on the frames, and Alethea stepped in to ‘help’ with the framing side of the business.
“I realized this was much more fun than paperwork—and thank the good Lord there are people who have a gift with bookkeeping,” she says with a smile.
“I’m passionate about framing because there are so many possibilities,” she adds.
“A client and his or her next-door neighbor can have the same image yet look completely different with different directions on the framing. Plus, when framing is done right, it lasts a long time. Well-done conservation materials used with an eye for design are kept when the furnishings are sent to the local thrift store and replaced.
“I also enjoy showing clients how art and framing can relocate to a new space in the home or office with simple changes such as a new mat, adding a fillet, and more.”
Alethea refers to her customer base as “tweeners”—people who are in-between phases of life.
“Perhaps they’ve recently married or made a home purchase and before the children come along. The other side of this is those who have children in upper high school or college age yet the grandchildren haven’t come along yet,” she says.
“We also work with designers and project managers on the commercial side for new construction and remodels.”
A long time PPFA member, Alethea particularly enjoys the classes at the annual PPFA Convention and West Coast Art & Frame Expo, and looks forward to their return.
The only PPFA Certified Picture Framer (CPF) in Acadiana, Alethea earned her designation as a way to set herself apart as a framer.
“At Barnel’s, we believe in educating our clients—it’s important they know what’s going into the framing package,” she says. “I strongly disagree with ‘it’s just a frame.’ “
“Certification is good because it promotes our industry as a profession and not a craft.”The largest project for the shop was a 7-x-9-foot Japanese kimono (pictured here) framed in the late 90s to early 2000s—“When ‘large’ meant 32-x-40 inches,” she says.
“It was a task to locate plexi this size. The client’s husband picked the finished project up in a flatbed trailer.”
The most historic project has been a document from the Civil War, and the shop also has framed a Civil War era flag.
“The most poignant are family photo shadowboxes—when a client cries upon pick up I know we’ve touched their heart,” she says.
The strangest item was a hornet’s nest still on the branch; and the most challenging is a
recent project (pictured here) using cut paper, and measuring 80-x-58 inches.
In recent years, Alethea has seen an appreciation for inherited artwork with updated, more modern and contemporary, framing
The shop, with a workforce of five, offers in-home consulting, from art curation to installation to custom window treatments.
“It’s always an honor when someone trusts Barnel’s to come into their home,” Alethea says.
“This helps us to see the space concerns, color, style, and more, that makes the end result sing all the more.”
Commercial projects are her favorite.
“Curating the art, partnering with interior designers helps to ensure Barnel’s stays on target with current styles,” she says.
Mirrors are another specialty.
“Mirrors that reflect a pretty view—and not the ceiling—help to open a space,” she says. “Our recommendation is, of course, bathroom mirrors, or perhaps above a buffet in the dining area or furniture piece in the foyer. Mirrors should never hang over the fireplace.”
Alethea refers to the shop’s gifts and sundries as ‘lagniappe’—a Cajun-French inspired noun that means ‘a little extra.’ They include pottery, soaps, textiles, lamps, vases and urns, sculptures, photo frames, and Mark Roberts collectibles.
“Its so much more fun to visit a framer when there are fun goodies to enjoy while being in the store,” she says.
Local art adds charm to the gallery, and the large group of artists includes Alethea’s daughter Morgan (pictured here) — who at age 7 picked her first frame for a customer at Barnel’s and has been with the business ever since.
Morgan, who graduated from University of Louisiana in May 2022 with an interior design degree, is pursuing a degree in French prior to pursuing a graduate degree in interior design; and takes case by case projects depending on how they work with her studies.
“She’s quite humble and incredibly talented,” her proud mom says.
Barnel’s coped with the pandemic challenges “With a lot of prayers,” Alethea says.
“For the most part we’re back in full swing. Stock is improving—however, we’re struggling with damaged products arriving from vendors—and I’m picky because my clients are.”
This delicate project was a gallery wall with a framed antique papyrus.
Family life for the Lafayette native includes her husband, three children, two grandchildren, and a couple of dogs.
In her leisure time, Alethea enjoys running. “I’ve begun running later in life—it’s quite ironic because playing sports in junior high and high school I’d always get lapped!
“And I love to travel and see what else is out there—and certainly check out the art scene wherever we’re staying.”