By Ryan Cornell
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Evan Cox is an editor who creates the periods and line breaks that syntactically frame those words.
Cox, 49, opened Passage Creek Gallery in downtown Strasburg's arts district on July 4. He makes custom picture frames and sells his own photography at his gallery.
Comparing him to an editor might be a tad bit inaccurate, though. He's never heard of Instagram. He has yet to learn Photoshop. Out of Cox's collection of images, only one has been altered -- with the help of his daughter -- and that was to remove a spot from the lens.
"Generally I shoot what I get and I get what I shoot," he said.
Passage Creek takes its name from the tributary that runs by his home in Fort Valley. A father of three who's lived there for nearly seven years now, he said he tried running his photo and framing business out of the basement, but worried about the quality of his work being compromised by moisture and time spent in transit to craft shows. He said opening his own storefront also seemed like a better way of attracting customers.
The self-taught photographer began creating his own frames when he was laid off from a job producing rockets and stinger missiles at Atlantic Research Corp. in Gainesville about 20 years ago. Deciding he needed a backup plan, he plopped down a $2,000 investment in framing equipment, including a glass cutter and an "old guillotine-style" mat cutter.
Between mounting the photo, cutting the frame and glass and assembling it with a V nailer, which attaches the corners together, Cox said the process takes him about two hours to complete.
"The advantage of custom framing is that I can make an image any size and I'm not paying extra to make the frames a different dimension," he said. "And I buy mouldings at a discount, so you're not paying full retail."
There's a high demand in Strasburg for a frame shop, said Marcy McCann, owner of the neighboring Shenandoah Valley Artworks.
"Three separate times, we've had conversations in town at Cristina's and other places that we needed a frame shop," she said. "So when I opened this as an art gallery three years ago, I made sure I had framers available."
McCann said she remembers the first day she met Cox. It was Oct. 17, 2012, and he had asked if she had any space to hang his art. She didn't -- today, her gallery displays a few of his photos -- but she did something even better for him. She planted the idea of opening a gallery into his head.
"I made him go next door to the florist shop, which was vacant, and told him to put his eyes there and said, 'Look, look in there. We can start a business for you right in there. I can hook you up with two or three different artists and you guys can go in together,'" she said.
McCann had also signed him up for a seminar at Lord Fairfax Community College on starting a business and selling art. By the end of the day, he had won a prize for his aptitude.
"What we like about Evan is his framing is phenomenal," she said. "A lot of people will just pop a picture in a frame, but he actually pulls this whole thing together."
Cox started renting the space in June and worked for six weeks making it presentable. He said he probably spent at least $1,200 on the flooring, paint and renovations.
Behind the store's cash register is a framed picture of a barn that Cox said is his favorite. The barn is surrounded by snow-covered fields and trees like a ripened cherry in a bowl of sugar. He said he had been driving down the Linden backroads when he saw the barn and just had to take the picture.
The photo also attracted the eye of Terry Thorne, a customer who had decided to visit the gallery after hearing glowing reviews from McCann. Thorne said the picture reminded her of the work of her ex-husband, who had been a photographer.
"He loved shooting barn wood," she said. "The textures, the warmth that it brings. It just brings a real homey feeling." She said she could tell Cox had a lot of experience.
Driving across "the paths less traveled" happens to be one of Cox's favorite pastimes. When he worked for CompuServe in Dulles, he would drive 65 miles each way to his job. He used the commute to explore the areas around Delaplane and Middleburg and would snap photos before he arrived at the office.
"I call them drive-by shootings," he said. "If I'm driving and I see something, I do get out most of the time."
Cox has shot so many subjects, he could be a lifetime member of the NRA. He's shot mansions and spiderwebs. He's shot trains and their conductors in Strasburg, Pa. He's gotten down on his hands and knees in a flowerbed to shoot a snail.
"I don't just do flowers, I don't just do barns," he said. "It's landscapes, it's horses, it's whatever catches my attention."
He even shot his own wedding. Cox said he had an EOS Canon 650 around his neck for most of the day and the reception, handing it to a friend only when he needed to be in the picture itself.
"Why pay someone to do what I could do?" he asked.
There's a good chance that camera draped around his neck could've been a stethoscope, though. Born Evan Ashby Cox in 1964, he was actually named after Dr. Evan Ashby, who delivered him in his Remington doctor's office.
"My mom just ran out of names," he joked. "There was confusion and they got the doctor's name and my name mixed up."
Cox would stay in Fauquier County until moving to the Shenandoah Valley in 1990.
On one occasion, Cox had parked his Grand Caravan by the side of the road. He was taking pictures of a tree branch hanging over the road when someone approached him from a nearby driveway. The man told him to stop what he was doing because he owned the tree.
"The pictures didn't turn out that great anyway," he said.
Another of his pictures is of an antique carriage, stationed outside a white plaster building in Rectortown.
"Nobody will ever take this picture again," he said. "Nobody can ever take this picture again. The buggy was there one morning and then hours later it was moved back inside. With photography, you have to take the picture or else it might not be there later on. You're capturing moments in time."
Similar to those fleeting moments, Cox said he's glad he seized the opportunity to open the gallery.
"When's the best time to follow your dreams?" he asked. "I would say today. Don't wait till tomorrow. If you set it aside, you might never do it."
Passage Creek Gallery sells watercolor paintings by Carolyn Connell, an artist from Middleburg. Cox said he plans to offer works by other artists in the future. He's also planning on installing a portrait studio in the back of the gallery.
Where: 244 W. King St., Suite 1, Strasburg / When: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. / Cost: $25-$150 / Call: 540-465-5511 / Online: passagecreekgallery.com
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org