New Bishop Hill business bent on preservation

John Sloan/GateHouse News Service
Marti and Jim Johnson are seen inside The Bishop Hill Gallery, a custom framing and prints shop they have opened in Bishop Hill.

There are a couple of big things on Jim Johnson’s mind as he and his wife, Marti, embark on a new adventure in historic Bishop Hill. Preservation. And preservation.

Located in the original 1856 Colony Administration Building on the south edge of the village park, The Bishop Hill Gallery features custom-framed fine art prints by period-and-place artists like Carl Larsson, Olaf Krans, Winslow Homer and others from the colony era.

It also has other images of interest to Johnson, like samples from his extensive collection of vintage fruit crate labels and Lincoln-era memorabilia.

And while the prints are a big part of what the Johnsons hope to bring to the Bishop Hill retail landscape, the larger part is the shop’s framing business.

“Custom framing is the crux of what we’re doing,” he said.

And that’s where the first preservation effort comes in.

“Everybody has something sitting somewhere that they’ve always intended to get framed,” he said, noting that he can offer acid-free matting materials that can help preserve the images and vintage documents he frames for his customers.

“If something has any value at all, we recommend acid-free rag matte material,” he said.

Johnson’s stock of frames and framing materials include hand-milled frames he’s built from scratch, plus restored antique frames, and stock materials from two major molding suppliers. The end result, according to Johnson, is a custom frame project that can meet virtually any budget.

The Johnsons came to Bishop Hill via a circuitous route: Jim’s roots are in the Oneida/Galesburg area, while Marti is a Southern California native.

The couple met in the Chicago area, where Jim was a PGA golf professional. When a family farm home in rural Oneida became available, the couple made the decision to make a major change in their lifestyle and surroundings.

Jim devoted the majority of his time and effort to rehabbing his old family homestead. Then he finished.

“When that project ran out, I needed something bigger,” he laughed.

They found it, along with another preservation project.

Looking for a place to pursue Jim’s passion for framing and fine-art (especially Larsson) prints, the couple was drawn to Bishop Hill, where he had family ties dating back to the mid-1860s.

When they found out the Colony’s original administration building might be available, they were immediately interested. Seeing the extensive remodeling work the buidling’s owners, Steve and Linda Holden, had done on the lower level of the building, the couple felt like their dream had a home.

“As far as we know, everything on the second and third floors is original,” said Johnson. “We intend to try to keep it as true to the original as we can.”

Future plans include offering overnight lodging on the second floor, with an apartment or two planned for the third level. But the most important part of their plan has to do with the preservation of a place and way of life that they both admire and enjoy.

“Hopefully, this place will be here another 150 years,” he said. “We want everybody to know about this place.”

His wife summed it up for the couple.

“The coolest thing about this is being custodians of this piece of history.”