Customers entering the quaint McKinleys Frame Shop on Pine Street are greeted by a smiling, knowledgeable woman with short blond hair and a tidy apron, eager to help them spruce up their home with a fresh frame on portraits.
What they don’t realize is that the same woman is former firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and a former bodybuilder.
“People were always surprised when they came into my home, because it was feminine,” said the Lodi resident. “Just because I lift weights doesn’t mean I’m not a girl.”
McKinley grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin. She grew up playing softball and volleyball, which continued through her 20s.
She first got into framing at age 21 at a frame shop in San Antonio, Texas, in 1984 after studying commercial art and design in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
But the frame work was essentially her day job while she made her body as strong as possible.
McKinley was playing basketball at the gym in the early 1980s with some friends when one mentioned she had a good physique for body building. A natural athlete, McKinley had never considered entering the world of muscle-building men and women as a profession. But she fell quickly into it as a hobby.
“He set me up with a workout, and I loved it,” she said. She took to working as a personal trainer in 1985.
Two years later, she joined the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter.
McKinley enlisted as a way to travel and see the world. She decided to work in firefighting as a way to avoid a desk job.
“I wanted something that was going to help people,” she said. The highlight was the chance to travel all over Europe while she was stationed in Germany at Rhein-Main Air Force Base.
She spent two years in the service, and another six in the Air Force Reserves. Back at home, she continued her personal training work. At her peak, she could deadlift 185 pounds. That was the result of daily workouts, intensive circuit training and preparing for competitions, one of which she completed. Her time at the gym was augmented by running personal training sessions with clients.
“I loved seeing people be successful with their goals,” she said.
That career kept up through 20 years and several moves throughout the West.
Later she moved to Galt, and was working as a personal trainer for Fitness Pro at their Galt and Lodi locations.
The end of her physical training career nine years ago meant more time to follow her creative pursuits.
Before opening her shop in 2008, McKinley worked at Frames and Fine Things in Lodi. When the owner passed away, their family offered McKinley the framing equipment. She accepted, and went into business for herself.
These days, McKinley says she’ll frame anything that isn’t moving. That includes portraits, of course, but also shadowboxes to hold medals, horseshoes (and hair), and even a bouquet of dried roses.
“I love working with my customers, and I love to be creative, so this is a creative outlet for me,” she said.
As part of the First Friday Art Hop every month, McKinley features work by local artists in her shop.
She takes framing seriously, and even visits customer’s homes to select a frame that will fit well with their decor. Her shop is filled with over 1,000 frame samples, with corners of each Velcroed to a display wall.
A new passion is using chalk paint. Her store carries Old Town Paints in 54 colors for crafters to pick up, and she offers classes four times a month. The paints are nontoxic and made in Elk Grove. Over the summer, her shop studio was full of painters working on patriotic hearts, stars and candleholders. This fall, expect pumpkins, leaves and later Christmas trees and holiday designs.
Working with chalk paints is a lesson in patience, says McKinley.
“It almost seems like it’s not looking very good, but give it time to transform,” she said.
McKinley has one son, Tavis Boswell, who is a U.S. Marine stationed in Japan.