Editor’s Note: We knew of Todd Kimmell as the ubiquitous non-profit and art world charity auctioneer, but until last month we didn’t realize he was a specialist in collecting and restoring archival prints of early Americana. Kimmell invited us out to see his business, The Grand Review, in Ardmore, in the basement of the Cassia Mount Horeb Masonic Lodge No. 273, which he rented and restored in 2011. While we got to talking, Kimmell mentioned that the Lodge also has a vintage two lane bowling alley, which he immediately offered to us as a special gift for donors to our crowd funding campaign. Theresa Stigale went out to The Grand Review this week to try a little vintage bowling but also to talk with Kimmell about collecting rare prints (Kimmell prints everything in-house and sells on the Internet). The showroom is currently featuring a variety of prints that commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. These will eventually be shipped for exhibitions in Japan and France.
Theresa Stigale: So what came first, the studio or the bowling alley?
Todd Kimmell: When I found this place, the studio came with the bowling alley, not the other way around. I’m not really a bowler per se, but in my travels I have always gone out of my way to bowl in any vintage 1950s bowling alley that I could find, because they were such a big part part of American popular culture. I really love having the lanes here because of that historical and social aspect.
TS: You had an interesting goal when started in search of a space for your business.
TK: I wanted to have my studio in this area for convenience and did some research. I figured that some institutions like schools, churches, and social clubs that have larger buildings to maintain might be willing to rent some unused space out to help pay their expenses, especially If they were experiencing dwindling memberships and resources for whatever reasons. When I found this place, this basement space was used as a storage area, so the bowling lanes were not in play. It was pretty common for these types of places to build small scale bowling alleys as recreation and a social hub for members. Having the lanes here inherently gives me open space and something visually pleasing to look at and interact with, as I’m working. I was also very happy to be able to bring the lanes back to life and see people enjoy them, kind of like what I do with the prints; it’s a form of historic preservation.
TS: You’re not just tangentially interested in retro things, but you seem to live “vintage.”
TK: My wife Kristin (an artist and art teacher) and I were involved with our “Lost Highways Archive & Research Library,” which focused on the the history of living on wheels. We started the vintage trailer scene in California and Florida and were always attracted to nostalgic images tied to trailers, bikes, cars, scooters, and life on the road.
Eventually, we started the print business, and I had to look up the names of what we were actually doing and working on. Rather than taking a class on the subject of prints, we just jumped in and didn’t even know what to call it. So for the past decade, and mostly in the past two years, we have figured things out on the fly and made this our business. In the history of art, the regular Jane or Joe wasn’t able to experience art first hand, in the sense of the great works in museums. Commercial artists knew what appealed to the public and made art available to everyone, like advertising and posters for example.
We love digging through piles of junk and finding gems that deserved to be reworked and enjoyed. These items literally scream at us saying “save me!” and “don’t let me languish at the bottom of a box.” We sell the results of the process of finding something that we fall in love with, digitally restoring and enhancing it, then offering it for sale. We want a buyer to discover an image that is meaningful to them and fall in love with it like we did.
TS: But not everything meets your standards.
TK: It all starts with falling in love with an image! Love is the central experience for me. When we find an image we naturally have a visceral response to it. We might not realize why but there is usually something about it that make us pick it up and look at it and it’s at that point that we begin to have a relationship with it. Some of the prints, for example, of fine pen and ink drawings depict animals with parts that are distorted and out of proportion. But that was sometimes purposeful, it carried meaning beyond the literal portrayal.
TS: The history of the prints seems to motivate you–but not in an abstract way–on a personal level.
TK:Seeing my vision for the print come to life with digital restoration. We love curating the images, and researching them–it’s all part of the experience. The goal with each print is that every image has to stand on it’s own and at its best–the image should serve as a portal for further inquiry. Because we sourced it, and subsequently, restore, enhance and sell the image, we allow that relationship to continue when it goes home with a buyer, and the backstory is a big part of it.
TS: We might say every print has a story.
TK: When someone buys a print from us, they need to be able to tell a story about it to their friends and family. We research not only the history but the context of the image. At the bottom of each image, in fine print, we add a line or two of reference information that summarizes our research. That story is integral to the experience of the purchase and could be about the subject, artist, the moment in time. The story may or may not be about how we actually acquired it, like at an auction for example. Buyers want to be able to hang our prints on their wall and talk about it, not store it in a box in the attic and never see it again. We make sure to enlarge and resize each print to be able to be displayed in a standard size frame so that they can enjoy it right away. Our primary interest is returning the love! We put these restored images into the realm of popular culture, so that they can be enjoyed and live on in the future.
About the author
Theresa Stigale was born and raised in Southwest Philly. She earned a B.B.A. from Temple University in 1983. Theresa is a photographer as well as a licensed Pennsylvania Real Estate Broker, developer and instructor. In the past ten years, she has documented the loft conversion projects that she and her partners have completed in Philadelphia, from stately old abandoned warehouses covered with graffiti to vintage factories, some still active with manufacturing. Visit her web site at TheresaStigalePhotography.com.