Michael Damico is an artist, consultant, and the owner of Damico Frame & Art Gallery in Franklin. More importantly, he is my younger brother. When it comes to self-assessments, he is modest but reasonable. So as Michael celebrates his 10th year in business, I asked him if I could tell you the story of how he got started and what drove him to where he is today… from my perspective.
Being six years older than Michael, I had little interest in him when we were very young, other than how frequently he annoyed me and, in hindsight, was probably simply dying for my attention. Once when I was about thirteen years old, however, I caught a glimpse of something truly phenomenal. I did a double-take as I walked past his bedroom that was strewn with Micro Machines and circuit boards from electronic toys and old radios that were in various stages of being taken apart and put back together again.
Did I mention that this was during the mid-80s? Placed upon his bed was the most detailed drawing of the creature from the Ridley Scott film Alien I had ever seen outside of the promotional materials. Michael, who could not have been more than seven or eight years old at the time, casually owned up to the drawing without the least bit of pomp or circumstance. It was just a run-of-the-mill drawing for him, nothing more.
My mind was officially blown. Decades later, I am still barely capable of drawing legible stick people and yet, here was this third-grader drawing a perfect rendition of H. R. Giger’s creation for a movie that we were not even allowed to watch.
Family Support System
Our mom had the good sense to identify the remarkable talent this youngster displayed and quickly enrolled him in private art lessons. Although, I suspect Michael actually taught the instructor a thing or two because he was clearly some sort of prodigy when it came to putting pencil to paper. Michael and I are essentially Gen X-ers, so we had our own brand of demons to work out, but Mom gave him the freedom to explore his dark places through his artwork. This turned out to be the single most therapeutic activity upon which he ever embarked, an activity he continues to this day in order to maintain mental clarity and decompress from the roller coaster that is life.
Our step-dad fueled Michael’s interests in engineering and the insatiable desire to understand just how things works. Thus, the circuit boards and deliberately torn apart toys in his childhood bedroom. This matters because Michael later turned that obsession with the engineering of technology into an obsession with anatomical engineering, specifically the human face, which eventually led to the production of a series of richly complex and oversized portraits of celebrities. The series spawned private requests for commissioned portraits for which there is usually a waiting list, but I digress.
A Hickman County school teacher for many decades, Miss Alma Gillespie, was Michael’s great aunt. Before her passing in 2005, she spent countless hours of Michael’s life teaching him arts and crafts. During his younger years, he did more painting with her at her home in Primm Springs, TN than anywhere or with anyone else. These rich opportunities fulfilled a deep need within Michael to create and fueled his self-described “obsession” to hone and perfect his skills as he grew older. By the time he got to college he knew he had to pursue an academic study of art as strongly as a fish has to pursue a life submerged under water. He attended the University of Central Florida (UCF) and graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies and an Associate Degree in Studio Art.
It was at UCF that Michael experienced one of his most profound and eye-opening moments as a student of art. Throughout a particular semester, the professor of Advanced Drawing, Robert Rivers, slowly kept removing Michael’s art supplies. By the end of the semester, he was left with only an eraser and one red pencil. No charcoal, no graded graphite pencils…nothing. Frustrated and confused, Michael finally asked Mr. Rivers why he was being punished since no other students were stripped of their art supplies. The answer: “Because this way you can’t lie in order to make it look pretty.”
It was later revealed by another professor that Michael had been specifically targeted by Mr. Rivers because of his remarkable talent. Michael came to realize that the man actually forced him to work through his problems on canvas by refusing him the option of adding style in order compensate for deficits. How’s that for a life lesson?
It is funny to think back on how frequently Michael would call me over the years and make the same declaration: “Hey, sis! I’ve finally figured out what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve decided to _______ (fill in the blank).” I got this call about two times a year for several years, with the answers ranging from teaching high school History to making and selling surf boards in Costa Rica. But one day, I finally got the call that made the most sense for my kid brother, the call that never had a follow-up with a new career path.
Some time before graduating from college, Michael landed an apprenticeship working for an amazing Korean painter named Sonny Chin who also made custom picture frames. Sonny was amazing because he connected with Michael like a son, passing on all the tricks of the trade, knowing full-well that one day Michael would break off on his own.
Michael apprenticed under Sonny’s guidance for a year and a half, during which time he found himself immersed in the world of Archiving, Framing, and Fine Art. That’s when Michael knew: this was it. This was the career path that had been holding out for him until he was ready to find it. The best part for me was that his career did not require a move to Costa Rica! Furthermore, not only did he now have a solid track to follow, but being absorbed in the art world where people actually paid good money for genuine works of art also gave him an audience to which he could present his own pieces. And so by December 2006, Michael gratefully hugged Sonny good-bye and entered the world of framing on his own by purchasing Frame & Art Gallery in Ft. Myers, FL.
During his first year, he dedicated a scant 300 square feet of the building’s 2,400 square foot total to living quarters, literally showering out of a bucket. Fortunately, the upstairs portion of the building opened up and Michael was able to move to the apartment above the business for the next three years. But the longing for community was strong, so he decided it was time to come home to his roots and his family in Tennessee. Thus, in December of 2010, Michael moved his business to Franklin and rebranded it as Damico Frame & Art Gallery. He opened his physical location on East Fowlkes Street near the historic Franklin square in March of 2011.
In the West where we are obsessed with binaries, we tend to categorize people as left or right brained. All stereotypes and inaccuracies aside, Michael is still fairly anomalous because of his ability to make transitions within seemingly dualistic strengths. That is to say, he operates with the social perceptivity and agility of Huckleberry Finn while equally blending the technical comprehension of da Vinci. Usually we expect folks to be more one way than the other, not to excel so strongly with both characteristics. No, I am not saying my little brother is on par with Leonardo da Vinci. But for those that are intimately aware of how Michael’s mind works, they would agree that da Vinci is an appropriate analogy.
His Greatest Asset
Michael’s father, Nick Damico of Primm Springs, TN, has served as “a relentless motivator” as Michael refers to him. Acting in a capacity somewhere between business advisor and business partner, Nick has been the driving force that has pushed Michael to succeed. Not only has Nick given him specific direction as it pertains to growth and development, but he has also taught Michael how to work with people in a way that is fulfilling for everyone. Nick has been in the world of marketing and advertising since the days of Mad Men, making him more than qualified to teach Michael the lost art of relationship development.
And it shows. I challenge anyone to walk into Michael’s shop and see if they do not feel like the most important customer on the planet. He treats every customer as if he is “Jerry McGuire” and they are “Rod Tidwell,” his only client.
So besides being gifted artist, what is Michael actually like as a person? Stop by and meet him. You won’t regret it.