Comic book aficionados would be thrilled to discover several of the items in Gallery 71 owner Lance Sawyers’s collection, including these rare Third Eye black light posters licensed by Marvel in 1971.
By Matthew Poindexter | Photo by Beth Mann
Gallery 71 isn’t the typical frame shop or gallery, and Lance Sawyers isn’t a typical shop owner. A former skateboarder who describes himself as “noticeably tattooed,” he began framing as a 19-year-old. And even after 25 years of framing and providing distribution for other small frame shop owners in the area, he’s still younger than most of his competition.
Since opening Gallery 71 in Churton Grove Center just northeast of downtown Hillsborough in 2017, Lance has transformed the space into a saturated world of color. He’ll happily deliver a traditional, tasteful oak or silver frame, but the purple walls suggest that his preference is to get creative. Comic book-style pop art in neon pink and electric blue frames share space with a hole-filled, Swiss cheese-like creations for a portrait of one customer’s pet rats. To match a poster for the 1962 sci-fi film “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” Lance crafted a frame with intricate woodworking resembling brain matter.
“We’re taking framing places it’s never been before,” Lance says.
Two of those places are the worlds of comic books and skateboarding. Lance’s Sk8 Box is a display case designed to let skaters show off their favorite boards. Similarly, his Geek Boxes display action figures, toys, trophies, awards and other collectibles. Lance and his team are fixtures at comic book conventions, where attendees trust them to create the perfect frame on the spot for their newly acquired or illustrator-signed items. But Lance and Gallery 71 have an even more notable connection to the comic book world. One of his early employees was Sam Hargrave, who has since become a stuntman in numerous comic book movies, including as Hugh Jackman’s stunt double in Wolverine and the stunt coordinator for “Avengers: Endgame.”
When “The Avengers” finished filming in 2011, Sam wanted to give director Joss Whedon, a comic book enthusiast, a memorable gift. He turned to his old boss Lance, who designed a custom Geek Box for the director.
The art on exhibit at Gallery 71 changes every 30 to 60 days, with five artists currently displaying work, including an installation of monster movie oil portraits by Raleigh’s Wes Flanary. Customers looking for new art or simply to sit and chat can enjoy one of the four local beers the shop keeps on tap, as well as a selection of wines and ciders. Just be ready to let Lance take you somewhere you’ve never been before.
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