Like he does with all the art he restores, Todd Kimmell saw some potential in the basement of Ardmore’s Masonic Lodge.
Unused for about 50 years, the room and its ancient bowling alley were collecting dust until last year, when Kimmell transformed the basement from a storage space into a studio and gallery for his business. The Grand Review, a collection of art prints created from reclaimed vintage and antique images, moved into the lodge in 2011.
The unique gallery space has an equally unique collection of art. Kimmell works with everything from Civil War-era stamps to candy wrapper images of movie stars, hunting them in flea markets, friends’ attics and beyond.
“It’s a never ending quest,” Kimmell told Patch during a visit to the gallery in late December. “It’s on one hand a simple process and on the other hand, a very involved process. We find an image that we fall in love with—that’s always central to what’s going on—there’s something about that image that’s speaking to you.”
After finding an image, Kimmell will acquire it, scan it at high resolution and start to tweak it—sometimes just to remove watermarks, and other times, to do more extensive work. Tweaking an image can take from half an hour to 2.5 hours to complete. The prints are then formatted to take a standard frame and printed on high quality art stock paper. A 24x18 print is around $40.
“The cost for us is preparing the file, buying the image, doing all the back work, and then we own it. So … people don’t have to pay more for [some pieces] just because they’re impossibly rare.”
One popular piece is a Frank Mayo print—originally depicted on a Barcelona chocolate bar around 1929. The heightened contrast in the image gives Mayo unnaturally red lips, which coupled with a slightly off stare makes him look a little eery. “A number of people have fallen for that print because it’s—it’s so odd," Kimmell laughed. "It’s strange, but in a very engaging way."
The set of images is diverse, and includes a series of prints created from decorative stamps by the Ernemann Camera Company in Germany—one of which depicts a morbidly obese man getting x-rayed—along with old photographs, including an image of some joyful and anonymous backup dancers from Ted Fio Rito's orchestra.
In addition to the odds and ends, an exhibit of Civil War era prints are on display, enlarged and touched up from postage stamp images. Among them is an image of Abraham Lincoln as a comet, former slaves, and some featuring men in Middle Eastern-style clothing and holding American flags.
Each of these images has a story, and half the fun is researching them, Kimmell said. Each print comes with a bit of background for the buyer.
"If ultimately the purpose [of each image] is to live with someone in their home, I like that the images offer portals to knowing more—that’s really important, though every image has to stand on its own, too," Kimmell explained.
While the basement of a oft unnoticed building may not be the ideal place to sell art—Kimmell might look for a storefront eventually—he thinks the Masonic Lodge could be a good thing for Ardmore. An active member group still meets there, but some parts of the lodge are frequently unused, and Kimmell has visions of using the space to bring more color to Ardmore.
"There should be every kind of show imaginable here—the matchcovers show for the whole freaking mid-Atlantic, the vintage clothing exhibit where everyone comes from all over the place, record shows ... I should be able to swing dance with my wife here," Kimmell said.
He'd like to be a force facilitating some of those events in Ardmore, which as he noted, already has a lot going for it—specifically mentioning MilkBoy Coffee and Tired Hands Brewing Company, where he and his wife were the first customers when the brewcafé opened in June.
After detailing some of his hopes for the lodge, he added simply, "I guess if you wonder if I’m a booster for the town, I am."
Maybe it's like what he does for his prints: "Everybody wants to save something and bring it back to life—whether it’s in a radical way like Dr. Frankenstein, or fixing your garden in the spring and having it thank you by giving you flowers," Kimmell said.
"I get a lot of that here, because I’m bringing things back to life that just would not exist otherwise ... I end up with things people can appreciate and enjoy all the time, and I like knowing I’ve been a catalyst in making that happen."
The Grand Review is located at 35 Ardmore Ave. (the corner of Ardmore and Athens Avenue), in the basement of Cassia Mount Horeb Lodge No. 273. The studio is open by appointment, but Kimmell said he is often there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, and often on the weekends. Call 267-690-6966 to set up a time to visit—even if you just want to come by to play a game of retro bowling, for free.