Every epic saga needs a great origin story…
In the beginning…
In 1998, Derek and Christine Vandeberg left Derek’s home town of Missoula and headed north to Bigfork intending to open a small frame shop. Nineteen years later, in addition to offering the finest custom picture framing available anywhere, Frame of Reference has become one of the premier fine art galleries in Montana. Christine has since moved to greener pastures (quite literally – she lives in Vermont now) but the gallery continues to thrive with an ever-expanding selection of unique framing materials, an innovative flair for design, and an exceptional collection of artists.
In February 2017 Derek relocated the gallery from Bigfork to a historic building on Central Avenue in the heart of the Old Town District in Whitefish, 40 minutes north of the old location. The new gallery has literally five times the wall space in a series of rooms allowing for both expansive vistas and intimate corners to showcase our collection. We show almost exclusively original works created by both emerging and established artists with a connection to the wild places we call home; mediums include paint, glass, bronze, photography and wood, and every artist we show has representation because one or more of us has a visceral reaction to their creations. In addition, we now feature a carefully-curated collection of secondary market pieces, works that have come from private holdings and are available to enrich your personal collection and feed your soul. These are primarily works by significant artists from the Old and New West – from Charlie Russell to Russell Chatham, this ever-changing exhibit is always worth a visit.
Derek Vandeberg – Founder, President, Master Framer
In 1993, Derek Vandeberg walked into a gallery in Missoula, Montana to buy a wedding present for a friend and walked out with a job as a picture framer. Ten years as a bicycle mechanic and apprentice framebuilder gave Derek the ability to construct nearly anything, and developed in him an abiding love for creating things. He was fortunate to be able to learn picture framing at L.A. Design from two women who took the industry by storm in the early ’90s and revolutionized picture framing in the western United States. As luck would have it, Derek could build what they thought – a surefire recipe for success. There is no “degree” in picture framing; Derek honed his craft taking classes and attending educational seminars throughout the country. Derek has taught frame design and gallery management courses at trade events at both the regional and national levels, and has written for Picture Framing Magazine, the largest trade publication in the industry.
While his evolution as a gallery owner has been a fluid journey, one facet has always remained a constant – Derek is a passionate advocate for the artists he represents. We represent artists and display their work because Derek realizes the vision and the understands the message that artist is working to convey; he endeavors to share that with both ardent collectors and casual visitors to the gallery.
When he’s not in the gallery Derek can be found on a bicycle or in a kayak, exploring Glacier National Park with his wife, Elizabeth and his stepdog, Chloe. Derek is an avid reader and an accomplished cook specializing in the Italian recipes from his mother’s heritage, and one day soon he’ll build himself another bicycle, time allowing.
Growing up in Greensboro N.C., Tula loved her time at the barn with her horse and competing, successfully, in hunter jumper competitions across the south. Little did she know that her annual family visits to Montana to see her mother’s relatives in Sydney, or later her cousins in Seeley Lake, eventually would lead her to a home on the Swan River outside Bigfork, MT.
Tula is married, with three daughters, four grandsons, three horses and an adopted mammoth donkey, Darla. With her husband Michel, she splits time between their home in northwest Montana and several winter months in Tucson, AZ, where they enjoy hiking, horseback riding and travel.
Tula’s entrepreneurial experience began in her early 20’s in North Carolina, buying, selling and trading antique furniture, art and collectibles. Later, in the early 1980’s, Tula partnered with her parents in the metal building insulation business. Over the next 20+ years, from the headquarters in Kansas City, she expanded the operations to 11 manufacturing facilities across the U.S., and her company became a leading national provider of insulation products.
When the family sold the business in 2004, Tula agreed to continue as national sales director, but she also was able to relocate to the site of her childhood visits and fond memories, northwest Montana. She and her husband soon developed an appreciation for western fine art, honed by annual treks to the Charlie Russell auction in Great Falls.
While traveling to Kenya in 2012, Tula made a personal commitment to support a local village (Mbitini) in fostering better living conditions and educational opportunities, particularly for women and children. She returns to Kenya every other year to support clean water, library, and medical initiatives.
Most recently Tula has acquired a minority interest in Frame of Reference, where she hopes to share her enthusiasm for western art. Combining her partner’s history in the industry, his technical framing expertise and his relationships and knowledge of contemporary art with her love of classic western fine art, they hope to add a new dimension to the Whitefish and northwest Montana art scene.
Denny’s first Montana experience was hiking in Glacier National Park in 1967. After more visits during his college days he moved to Montana from Iowa in 1976 bringing with him a life-long interest in history and art, which he considers to be inextricably linked.
Over the past 40 years he has pursued an understanding of this connection as it defines present Montana culture and concludes that it has been, and continues to be, a primary force in the development of our state’s “character”.
As a self-described “enthusiast” and avid collector, he has been actively involved in both the Montana art community and the various institutions which explore and preserve our history. These include the Montana Historical Society, Northwest Montana Historical Society, Bigfork Art and Culture Center and the Hockaday Museum of Art where he served as Vice President for several years.
He has shared his collective knowledge through lectures, presentations, curated exhibitions and publications. As a co-producer of the documentary film A Timeless Legacy, Women Artists of Glacier National Park and the accompanying book, he brought recognition to the overlooked contributions of women artists spanning nearly one hundred years in the park.
Current endeavors include The Hockaday Museum of Art’s “mural restoration project” in which long-lost murals from Glacier Park are being restored and displayed in public venues throughout Western Montana.
Also, our A Timeless Legacy team is presently developing a documentary film and book on the history of the Bigfork area to be completed by Fall 2017. Proceeds will benefit the Bigfork Art and Culture Center.
Denny’s ongoing research includes a study of 19th century Montana artists and their contributions to laying the foundation on which today’s art community rests. It is his intention to use the resulting syllabus for adult education classes.
Denny’s principal role at Frame of Reference is as the curator of the works in our historic collection – in fact, he was the inspiration for and the driving force behind creating this segment of the business. Each piece on display is evaluated by Denny and selected only after careful consideration of its authenticity and individual merit, and he’s always on the lookout for another treasure for us to share.