Interview: FourSided and TwoSided Founder Todd Mack
I’ve long been enthralled with FourSided founder, artist and entrepreneur Todd Mack’s framing projects, which elevate common objects to art through the creative use of mattes and collage, so I was very happy to hang out with him for a bit recently. As you read this interview, may I suggest that you listen to the Irish rock-and-roll band The Frames? I think it’s appropriate; don’t you? Just click play on the YouTube icon on the screen to your right.
My visits to FourSided have prompted me reconsider what kinds of objects can be framed and how the physical frame itself can be used for more than ‘framing’; Todd’s ticket stub collection frame, with a slot cut into the top for ticket stubs, enables one to create a personal, evolving piece of art. Besides offering very cool framing services, FourSided (and sister store TwoSided) have an excellent gift shop that carries a mix of vintage and newly produced retro items, which are affordable, interesting and freakishly in line with my sensibilities. Stop in if you haven’t or visit FourSided’s website or blog.
Where did you develop the FourSided concept? Sometimes I forget that you’re a framing shop.
A lot of people do, especially up north (Andersonville). I’m always getting chided for not having enough framing in the window. People think we’re just a gift shop.
It’s a terrific store. How did you get your start as a business owner?
In Lansing Michigan, I had a gallery for seven years, which was both. It was 2000 square feet upstairs in a historic building – tin ceilings, exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, it was phenomenal and I was paying under $1000 per month. It was insane.
Continued . . .
Were you doing well?
I was doing very well. It became an anchor store in a little historic district, Old Town. It’s actually just a district in Lansing, Michigan. The whole thing was born of interior, home, gifts and framing all in one place.
I grew up at Frames Unlimited in Michigan, so I started in another retail frame environment. To do anything outside of their cookie cut, I had to hold a gun to their head. I dropped out of college and decided to do it myself.
Why did you leave?
I had just grown tired of it. It was very small and it refused to get bigger at the pace that I hoped it would. There were lots of vacant stores and businesses coming in that just were not suitable to my environment. That place was really a blessing for me, but it was easy for me to leave. I’d done my thing and Chicago was the next landscape.
How do you compare Chicago to Michigan?
It was a lot easier here. In a small town everybody knows everybody’s business. If the people didn’t have a hand in something they didn’t want to change it.
Continued . . .
I was very familiar with Chicago. My partner made it very easy for me to sell my business in Lansing, and he told me about all the neighborhoods and all the possibilities. He made it happen and I let him make it happen. Fear of failure was never a big issue. I just knew I could get people to buy my stuff. That’s never been a fear, not until recently.
People are becoming much more timid and coming back from the ledge. In my store, a lot of it is impulse; it’s luxury. I’m not saying we’re hurting, but I’m not used to this sort of mentality. I have no fear that things will get back to normal. I don’t know when, but . . .
How many years have you been on Broadway now?
It’s been eight years. Andersonville opened in October 2007.
Continued . . .
Congratulations. You have a very defined aesthetic. Vintage, flashcards, it could be very specific, but everybody I know loves it. What goes into how you select your products? Is it your taste?
It has to be beat up; it can’t be in perfect condition. There’s a romance in something that’s been beaten up. I like to see something that’s been through the ringer that has history and scars. To me that’s a lot more interesting than something that’s 100 years old but looks brand new. The whole Antique Roadshow thing where they say, “it’ll be so much more valuable without this rip.” To me it’s more valuable with the rip.
Do you think this is a trend, a realization? It seems like most people feel the same way.
Even Target is trying to cater to that. Some of them are horrible knock-offs, but there’s demand. We do carry reproductions, but we try to carry ones that do a good job of it. It has to pass the muster. I think this even transcends into a lot of peoples’ art. For years now people have been using ephemera in their collages.
The reproductions you carry don’t look fake though.
Fake is for a Hallmark store.
Continued . . .
And you’re an artist. You’re involved in the Lakeview Art Festival, correct?
The Lakeview East Festival of the Arts (chuckles). We’re very proud of that name. The art and the interest in art have always been there. My mom had me in art classes as soon as I could walk. I was just lucky enough to have this marriage of my job and the freedom of doing with it what I wanted.
You have a pretty sweet gig for an artist.
I’m pretty lucky.
Have you always worked with collage?
That kind of grew. In Michigan they had these metro picnics. I would frame things in scrap frames and lay them out on a picnic table in a park. Those ideas were born back then and I grew it as time went on.
Continued . . .
To what do you attribute to the success?
I think I’ve seen enough art to gain a good sense of editing. Young artists sometimes add too much. Sometimes less is more. I like assemblage, but I really like to make functional objects out of things. Like mirrors that use scrabble letters as the frame . . . I like things that have a dual purpose. I went through this ticket box phase. I’d cut a piggy bank slot in the top of a frame, so people could collect tickets. That’s an example of a dual-purpose item. It’s art, but it’s art that grows. I like things that move inside the frame.
So what’s in the future? Do you want there to somebody 100 FourSided’s someday?
No. When I had one, it got 100% of my energy. Then I had two and each had 50% of my energy. Now I have three. You can get spread too thin. Do one well; don’t do three OK.
Well I like all of them. I think you’re doing three well. So what’s next for FourSided?
Check out our blog. It’s in its infancy and silly, but eventually it’ll lead to e-commerce.
Cool. Thank you so much for talking with me.