In the beginning…

In 1998, Derek left his home town of Missoula and headed north to Bigfork intending to open a small frame shop. Twenty one years later, in addition to offering the finest custom picture framing available anywhere, Frame of Reference has become one of the premier fine art galleries in Montana. With the move to Whitefish, the gallery has been expanded in size and scope. The framing aspect of the gallery continues to thrive with an ever-expanding selection of unique framing materials, an innovative flair for design, and an exceptional collection of artists.
In February 2017 Derek relocated the gallery from Bigfork to a historic building on Central Avenue in the heart of the Old Town District in Whitefish, 40 minutes north of the old location. The new gallery has literally five times the wall space in a series of rooms allowing for both expansive vistas and intimate corners to showcase our collection. We show almost exclusively original works created by both emerging and established artists with a connection to the wild places we call home; mediums include paint, glass, bronze, photography and wood, and every artist we show has representation because one or more of us has a visceral reaction to their creations. In addition, we now feature a carefully-curated collection of secondary market pieces, works that have come from private holdings and are available to enrich your personal collection and feed your soul. These are primarily works by significant artists from the Old and New West – from Charlie Russell to Russell Chatham, this ever-changing exhibit is always worth a visit.

Derek Vandeberg – Founder, President, Master Framer

In 1993, Derek Vandeberg walked into a gallery in Missoula, Montana to buy a wedding present for a friend and walked out with a job as a picture framer. Ten years as a bicycle mechanic and apprentice framebuilder gave Derek the ability to construct nearly anything, and developed in him an abiding love for creating things. He was fortunate to be able to learn picture framing at L.A. Design from two women who took the industry by storm in the early ’90s and revolutionized picture framing in the western United States. As luck would have it, Derek could build what they thought – a surefire recipe for success. There is no “degree” in picture framing; Derek honed his craft taking classes and attending educational seminars throughout the country. Derek has taught frame design and gallery management courses at trade events at both the regional and national levels, and has written for Picture Framing Magazine, the largest trade publication in the industry.

While his evolution as a gallery owner has been a fluid journey, one facet has always remained a constant – Derek is a passionate advocate for the artists he represents. We represent artists and display their work because Derek realizes the vision and the understands the message that artist is working to convey; he endeavors to share that with both ardent collectors and casual visitors to the gallery.

When he’s not in the gallery Derek can be found on a bicycle or in a kayak, exploring Glacier National Park with his wife, Elizabeth and his stepdog, Chloe. Derek is an avid reader and an accomplished cook specializing in the Italian recipes from his mother’s heritage, and one day soon he’ll build himself another bicycle, time allowing.

Elizabeth Vandeberg

Elizabeth has been helping behind the scenes at Frame of Reference for quite some time, but “officially” joined the Frame of Reference team in the summer of 2018. With a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Montana and nearly a decade in the web industry as a Project Manager, Elizabeth brings a unique set of skills to the team. She focuses on keeping the gallery organized and does all things tech related.
When Elizabeth is not in the gallery, she is passionate about being outside! She recently fell in love with mountain biking and continues to enjoy hiking, kayaking, cycling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and camping. She is always scheming about a new adventure with her husband Derek and their beloved trash panda, Kootenay.

Tula Thompson

Growing up in Greensboro N.C., Tula loved her time at the barn with her horse and competing, successfully, in hunter jumper competitions across the south. Little did she know that her annual family visits to Montana to see her mother’s relatives in Sydney, or later her cousins in Seeley Lake, eventually would lead her to a home on the Swan River outside Bigfork, MT.

Tula is married, with three daughters, four grandsons, three horses and an adopted mammoth donkey, Darla. With her husband Michel, she splits time between their home in northwest Montana and several winter months in Tucson, AZ, where they enjoy hiking, horseback riding and travel.

Tula’s entrepreneurial experience began in her early 20’s in North Carolina, buying, selling and trading antique furniture, art and collectibles. Later, in the early 1980’s, Tula partnered with her parents in the metal building insulation business. Over the next 20+ years, from the headquarters in Kansas City, she expanded the operations to 11 manufacturing facilities across the U.S., and her company became a leading national provider of insulation products.

When the family sold the business in 2004, Tula agreed to continue as national sales director, but she also was able to relocate to the site of her childhood visits and fond memories, northwest Montana. She and her husband soon developed an appreciation for western fine art, honed by annual treks to the Charlie Russell auction in Great Falls.

While traveling to Kenya in 2012, Tula made a personal commitment to support a local village (Mbitini) in fostering better living conditions and educational opportunities, particularly for women and children. She returns to Kenya every other year to support clean water, library, and medical initiatives.
Most recently Tula has acquired a minority interest in Frame of Reference, where she hopes to share her enthusiasm for western art. Combining her partner’s history in the industry, his technical framing expertise and his relationships and knowledge of contemporary art with her love of classic western fine art, they hope to add a new dimension to the Whitefish and northwest Montana art scene.

Caitlin Christopher

Caitlin joined frame of Reference in the summer of 2017; she came in to the gallery one hot afternoon bearing a resume and a plan to relocate to Whitefish. Caitlin had been working as a picture framer in the Seattle area for almost a year, and had just enough experience to grasp the core concepts without developing any bad habits. In less than 18 months she has risen from a part timer to become manager of the framing operation, and we couldn’t be happier!

Caitlin grew up in Montana in Arlee on a farm playing with sticks and dirt. She attended Western Washington University – Bellingham, with a B.F.A. in Studio Art with a concentration in Print Making. Throw in a minor in Mathematics and Art History and she’s the perfect framer for Frame of Reference.

Caitlin is fanatical about screen printing but others would say ‘traditional print arts’. When she’s not framing at the gallery, Caitlin binges on noodles and anime and has recently started rock climbing as her new obsession.

Bryce Bennett

With his BFA in Studio Arts with a concentration in Photography from the University of Texas at Arlington, combined with his experience as a photo lab technician, Bryce adds yet another layer of art industry knowledge to our diverse and experienced team. When not at the gallery Bryce tries to spend as much time outside as possible. He attributes his passion for the environment and love for the outdoors not only to being raised in Montana, but also to his own father’s creative drive as a landscape photographer.

Keeping in theme with the rest of the FoR team, apart from creative ventures, one of Bryce’s greatest passions is for cycling. Whether it be road/mtb/gravel, there is no discrimination here. To be honest that’s probably why he got hired. (wink) Early to bed, first to shred.

Miriam Genheimer

Miriam first came to Montana to work in the Many Glacier valley, and after three summers spent in the park, she couldn’t help but move to the area!

She has a Bachelor of Arts in Violin and took as many studio art and humanities classes as she could during her liberal arts education. In 2019, she started dog sitting for Tula, and next thing she knew she was the part time sales associate at the gallery! Miriam thoroughly enjoys being a part of the team, and when she isn’t at work she can be found playing in the symphony, mountain biking, snuggling her new electric guitar, running a small business with her partner, Austin, or having an existential crisis.

Kim Crawford

Kim joined the team after coming in to purchase art and asking if we needed help a few days a week. Originally from Michigan, she then went for warmer climates and lived in Florida and Southern California. She spent a decade soaking up diverse cultures while living in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore. Kim’s decision to forego big cities and try out the small-town life in Northwestern Montana has been a success! She’s open to almost every new activity and has been enjoying hiking, mountain biking, and is the proud new owner of a stand up paddleboard. Kim lives in Whitefish with her two quirky dogs Mitsu and Cosmo.