by RONA MANN / Photos by Stephanie Sittnick

There are no stereotypes about this place…nor about the people who own it.
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The father is attired in a pair of well worn jeans, held up over his very spare body by a pair of nondescript suspenders. His head is adorned with a baseball cap proclaiming, “Old Saybrook Townie.” He warmly welcomes the visitor, words fairly spilling out of his lips a mile a minute, so eager is he to tell his story. He can’t help it, he’s proud.

The son is likewise comfortably dressed; neither would think of wearing a collared shirt and tie. Ever. It’s  just not necessary for what they do and who they are; and once meeting them, you instantly know they are the real deal in every way that counts.

The father is Bob Jerome, a man with a storied history of his own, yet he is even more interested to learn your history and to preserve it in the only way he knows…through art. Jerome, an army brat who grew up in Arlington, Virginia, recalls being taken on a school field trip to the National Museum of Art when he was very young. “It was the first time I was exposed to art. Being a kid I also like the highly polished marble floors because it was fun to slide on them. But it was the art that intrigued me, even at that age.”

Growing up in the shadow of the nation’s capital gave Jerome frequent access to all the museums. “I grew up in Shangri-la,” he said, eyes dancing. “In Washington, D.C. all the museums are free, so I could go as often as I wanted to all the museums and see anything there was to be seen.”

art-emporium-8-Ink-PublicationsJerome took some art classes in high school, but then attended the Corcoran School of Art in D.C. Following a Bachelor’s Degree from Bethany College in West Virginia, he got a job in an art supply store where he learned to work with various media including metal, wood, clay, and paper, acquiring a vast knowledge of art supplies and their usage. He wasn’t just a well informed clerk; he became a scientist of sorts. “The why and what of art supplies is what I live for. I have a thorough understanding of the chemistry of all the products.”

After managing an art emporium for a number of years, Bob bought the business and has been the owner of Art Emporium of Old Saybrook for 32 years.”We’re a fixture here on Main Street,” he says of the circa 1910 delightful space he occupies, once serving as Patrick’s Country Store.

The “we” includes his son and partner, Bryan Jerome, no slouch at the business either. He has been learning every aspect of Art Emporium and plying his trade since he was a kindergarten student. “Back then the bus would drop me off here after school, and my dad would give me some paper and paints and crayons and let me draw.” It started simply enough with occupying a young boy, but it became a kind of osmosis, as little Bryan asked the questions and Bob patiently provided the answers, easing him into the world of art, art supplies, and eventually, custom framing.

It paid off. In 2007 Bryan decided he wanted to experience big city life for a time. He had never known anything other than the small town of Old Saybrook and the art supply store, so he packed his bags and spent the next six years in New York City. Based on his experience framing in his father’s shop, he secured a job “on the spot” with Drummond Framing, a museum quality shop in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. It wasn’t long before Bryan was framing works of art worth millions of dollars for Christies and Sotheby’s and meeting the millionaires and billionaires who would ultimately own them.

art-emporium-4-Ink-Publications“They were impressed that someone my age had so much experience in framing,” Bryan relates. “I owe that to my father.”

It was because of his father and his love for the store that in 2013 Bryan was drawn back to Old Saybrook, where he now works shoulder to shoulder with Bob (“He changed  me”), as well as investing his own personality and proclivities into the business. “I love vintage music, so we now have a small section of the store where we buy and sell vinyl, discs, and cassettes; and we are constantly broadcasting on our outside speaker.”

It’s not just Bob and Bryan that lend the uniqueness to this “old school business.” Bob’s wife, Judith is a professional artist, with some of her work sold at Art Emporium. “She  doesn’t work in the store,” Jerome explains, “but she is a key element to this business. She grounds me.”

And daughter, Emily who used to work in the store as a teenager (“She was the best we ever had behind the counter”), is the web designer for Art Emporium and maintains Bob’s blog, which unlike many is not a rambling diatribe, but a never ending testament to his passion.

Above all, Bob and Bryan want people to know they are not a chain store frame shop, but old school craftsmen doing it the old school way. They are in the business of preserving and protecting photos, art, flags, porcelain, jewelry, clothing; and most of all, memories. “I don’t want a magazine article listing all the art and framing supplies we have here,” stated Bob emphatically. “It’s not about our supplies and inventory, it’s about who we are, where we came from, how much we love what we do, and how well we do it for our customers. I want people to go find something their attic that is a connection to their history, and then bring it to us so we can afford it the respect it is due and professionally preserve it for them. That’s what I want said in Ink Magazine.”

Hopefully we did so.

Art Emporium of Old Saybrook is located at 288 Main Street  (860) 388-1419

Check out  Bob’s blog on Facebook and visit their website at www.artemporiumoldsaybrook.net

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