Small space fosters big ideas for Germantown arts business

Story by Hollie Deese
Photography by Julia Steele

Robert Jones is ready to prove you don’t need a lot of space to make a big impact. His Overton Arts framing workshop is carved into the 100 Taylor Arts Collective in Germantown.

“Because it’s so small, and it’s just me, I’m really able to put a lot of time into each project and get to know the customers really well,” Jones says.

He carefully curates his selection of frames, choosing ones that are consistently reliable, along with options from smaller craftspeople putting out smaller batches of frames, sometimes from workshops as small as his Germantown space. And if something doesn’t work after it’s hung, Jones is happy to reframe until the piece and the space where it is hung are working in perfect harmony.

“If somebody needs a design project, no matter how crazy it is, those are the projects that I am most excited to work on,” he says.

There is a level of trust when people come to him to frame mementos they most want to remember, everything from intimate photos to a 5-foot-wide hand-painted tail wing from a World War I plane.

Robert Jones

“There was a real attachment because the man who was getting it framed, his grandfather had flown the plane,” Jones says.

And since his work goes beyond framing and into art consultation, his relationship with artists is something he’s put a lot of thought into as what makes a traditional gallery is changing. Currently he is working with Lanie Gannon, Trenton Doyle Hancock and John Alexander.

“I think that social media and the internet have changed the need for galleries, in a way,” he says. “They’ve become less vital, and people want a much more personal connection to the artist whose work they’re buying, and a lot of people want to buy directly from the artist. My priority is trying to help the arts community, or at least play a role in helping the arts community, catch up with the growth other industries in Nashville have seen. And I think that’s starting to happen.”

Jones’ connection to Nashville extends back much further than 2010, when he moved here the first time. Jones’ mother’s side of the family is originally from Nashville, but she moved to England to earn her Ph.D. in London and ended up staying after she met Jones’ father. Jones was born in England but grew up going back and forth to Nashville.

“I’ve always loved America, and I have the family ties in Nashville. That really helped make that an easy choice,” he says.

He was here for about two years, working at the Tennessee State Museum before moving to D.C. There, he took a job at the well-respected frame store, Allen Custom Frame, where the owner took Jones under his wing, taking him on site with designers to plan picture-perfect walls.

“He had very high standards, and I learned a lot about the industry,” Jones says.

A year ago he moved back to Nashville with the framing and art skills he had learned, looking for something different from the high-paced intensity of D.C. He framed out a small workshop space for Overton Arts. He is surrounded by a music studio, ceramic artists, florists and more.

The name comes from an old family name — John Overton of Travellers Rest Plantation fame is a long-ago relative. And more than a traditional picture frame store, he hopes with Overton Arts to key in more directly to the design community, working with interior designers to help find the right art — and the right frames — for their clients.

“The best projects I’ve worked on are ones that had a more in-depth design approach when I was working with interior designers, when I was working with art collectors, when I was going out to people’s houses and seeing where it’s going to be hung,” he says. “Not just designing for the piece, but designing for the space and making sure that it’s going to create its own little world.”

Overton Arts
100 Taylor St. Unit B-12, Nashville