Dow Art Gallery and Framing grand opening

The Art Gallery and Frame Shop at the Dow Building, 2242 University Ave, celebrated its grand opening Thursday, February 26, 2015.  

To average passerby, the Dow Building at 2242 University Ave looks like any one of the many old industrial buildings lining the Central Corridor. Behind its unassuming façade, however, are more than 30 artist studios where painters, woodworkers, metalworkers, photographers and more create. An innovative framing business with a unique model is now giving the inner creativity of the Dow Building an outwardly visible face.

Khanh Tran opened Frame by Frame in the University Ave facing storefront of the Dow Building previously occupied by Fastenal September 16. He plans to have his frame shop double as a gallery for artists in the Dow Building. Rather than take a commission on works that sell out of the shop, he charges artists a flat monthly rate to display their work. So far, 16 artists from the building have taken him up on the offer.

A frame shop needs work to frame and display, while artists need a clean, sleek space to show and sell their work. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Tran says. “I help them sell their art, and they can use this gallery as their own to present their art instead of going up to their studio.”

Tran designed the space to resemble an art gallery. Crisp white walls host a full gallery’s worth of art lit with professional grade track lighting. If not for the racks of frame samples behind the front counter, one might easily think they’ve just walked into the latest upscale gallery in town. It’s a stark transformation from the dingy and dim space used to sell industrial supplies before.

As a tenant of the Dow Building for several years, Tran has been eyeing the storefront space for sometime. He previously rented a small studio in the building to store his framing equipment while pursuing other investments. He developed relationships with many of the artists and makers in the building during that time, making the new gallery arrangement a natural fit.

From Vietnam to Minnesota, success against adversity a family story

Tran credits his entrepreneurial spirit to his parents. His father was a tailor, his mother a seamstress. Together, they built Tran’s Tailors, a chain of tailor shops throughout the Twin Cities.

“They worked hard for it,” Tran says. “It’s not easy to open five businesses from nothing. That’s where I get my drive.”

The Trans’ family story of success in the face of adversity began on a boat in the Pacific Ocean in 1978. Looking to escape a war-torn Vietnam, Khanh’s father saved what little money he could and bought a 30-foot boat. He boarded a 4-year old Khanh along with 20 other children and 10 adults and set out for a more prosperous life and opportunity.

“He wanted to escape Vietnam for the better. It was just a warzone and the aftermath of what’s left over—what you own isn’t yours anymore, the currency isn’t the currency you use anymore cause they changed it all over…so he figured lets get out of here,” Tran said.

The boat arrived in Japan and the passengers were moved to a refugee camp, where eventually they were given Visas that allowed them entry into the U.S. The family again packed up their belonging and headed for Bloomington, Minnesota, where Khanh’s uncle lived.  

Khanh Tran eventually went on to attend college where he first discovered framing as a potential profession. Interested in art from a young age and needing to make ends meet, he stopped into a local gallery and asked if they needed help.

“They hired me on the spot, taught me how to frame and taught me how to sell art,” he says.

With an apparent knack for the craft, Tran later went on to open his own frame shop gallery space in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis in a storefront across the street from the Northern Clay Center.

More recently, Tran lived in Montana for five years where his wife has family. Though he says the market wasn’t right for his framing business, he managed to open a successful automobile detail shop.

Now, back in Minnesota and in the heart of the Creative Enterprise Zone, Tran is hopeful he’s landed in the right place to pursue his first passion: framing and selling beautiful original art.

“The reason I continue doing it is because I just like to design it; I like to see the art and I like to have a hand in making that art look even better,” Tran says.



Julie James