Mick Marshall is a determined self-made man brought up near Barnsley, who escaped a life down the pit to emerge into a bustling London, a world away from the hills of Yorkshire. With many successful business ventures to his name, it would be the magic derived from the moment an image is held within a frame, that would come to dominate his working life.
Mick Marshall was an atypical teen from a working class town in West Yorkshire. Escaping an uncertain future down the mines, the young Michael Marshall enrolled at Barnsley Art School, thriving in an atmosphere, where self expression was positively encouraged. Young Marshall quickly found he had a flair for creativity, particularly drawing and illustration. He had frequently gone out to the fringes of the town and beyond, sketchbook in hand, to capture the mood and likeness of the landscape.
From 1962-65 Mick Marshall attended Barnsley Art School where he recalls a number of tutors who who inspired him to excel: Derek Swinscoe, Roy Leivesley, Rene Skinner and her sewing class. After three years Mick Marshall was awarded the Outstanding Artist Prize. The award came in the form of a book, ‘Art of Picasso’ (still a treasured possession) presented to him by Art School Principal, Harry Glover.
With three acceptance offers from Bradford College of Art, Hull Art School and Coventry, the young artist chose the latter but then regretted it. The Grade A student took up the Graphic Design and Illustration course at Coventry, but found it didn’t click with him; he wasn’t inspired by either the place or the course. He sorely missed the freedom, explore ideas and to create, that he had found so nurturing, at the Barnsley School.
‘I should have chosen Bradford, Coventry was too regimented,’ he says with a trace of regret in his voice.
Having been lured by the bright lights of London city in ’68, he just happens to find himself working on illustrations for a major new animation film, called Yellow Submarine at The Beatles Studio. Mick Marshall fresh out of University, now spends his days in Soho, immersed in the fashions, the music and subculture; until landing a job creating artist impressions for future hotel complexes, to be built in South Africa, London and Hampshire.
In 1969 the entrepreneurial young Yorkshireman began working for Alfred Hecht. Hecht was a well-respected picture frame-maker and art collector who lived above his own shop on the trendy King’s Road in Chelsea. He was well-known for being able to see talent in a person long before anyone else saw the same.
Under the tutelage of Hecht, Marshall learned how to carve, gild, mount cut frames and master all the finer crafts of the trade. So adept was he, that after five years, he was managing the company. Through Hecht the protégé, came into contact with the great and the good of the London art set. Seminal artists such as Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and David Hockney, to name drop but a few, valued Hecht’s particular insight and expertise to frame and hang their work. It was Hecht that Bacon turned to, to supervise the hanging of his major retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
With success breeding success, there was no stopping the remarkable artist turned businessman. In 1974 making the decision to strike out on his own, Mick established himself as a major manufacturer, under the company name Rat Frames Ltd. He focused on picture frames and the growing trend for reproduction engraved mirrors, the like of which would soon be seen hanging behind every bar in the country. In the mid to late 70’s Rat Frames Ltd employed 60 people and business was booming.
‘We were turning out 60,000 a week with clients that included the Guinness Brewery and the royal wedding of Charles and Diana…’
His work took him to Marlborough Gallery, Clarence House and brought connections with more esteemed names: from the world of antiques Bob Wilson: from motor sport the racing driver Stirling Moss: renowned global art collectors Saatchi & Saatchi, even Prime Ministers of the day.
It was a dramatic event in the global silver market which prompted a change in direction. The price of silver rocketed from five dollars to 25 dollars after the BunkerHunt price war; it simply became too costly to keep silvering the repro pub mirrors.
In 1980 Mick moved back up North, opening a new factory M & M Mouldings, in Barton Upon Humber. The factory was supplied by Howarth Timber conveniently located just a few miles down the Humber Estuary. Here he pioneered and perfected the art of using MDF to create artisan looking frames, but at a fraction of the cost. The Barton shop-floor made picture frame mouldings for export around the worldwide, with major brands such as Ikea on the books. Orders ran to the 100,000s every week.
Like so many the economic downturn hit Marshall’s business hard, the collapse of the local caravan industry had a dramatic effect on the amount of business they were doing. Less work meant tighter margins and so spotting the trend for outsourcing, the goods manufacturing side moved to China. Chinese factories could manufacture materials at a far lower cost, which in turn increased margins. Materials were then shipped back to the UK to be assembled on demand. It was this bold move to outsource this part of the process that has kept the business afloat.
Since the financial collapse Mick has managed to maintain trading, through opening up new markets and discovering new opportunities for development. Now in 2015, Mick Marshall, working out of his current premises in East Hull, he has embarked on another venture that has taken all of his skills and knowhow built up over the past sixty years, to add another success story to his name. Marshall and his talented design team, have created a stylish new home furnishings range, that is both aspirational and affordable ‘ Luxury for the masses‘
This now, well established and well respected business will continue the thread of excellence, that started way back in a small London shop on the King’s Road.
In today’s market connecting your message with customers is central to any business, Mick has been doing this for many years and believes that what has set him apart every time, has been the connection he has with his many and varied clients.
‘Whether it is a customer with a single floral print, or a hotel chain wanting mirrors in every bedroom, each one is treated similarly with equal amounts of respect.’
By being able to talk and build a rapport with a client, Mick can advise and then offer the best choice for the client; thus solving the problem. He knows that when a client is happy with their choice, they are going to get many years of great pleasure, from having their treasure framed to look its absolute best.
Recently Mick has been engaged with philanthropic activities including, sourcing gallery space for emerging artists and supporting arts in the community. Like many who have worked hard and achieved success, he now feels a pressing need to give something back, to support future generations and seek out new talent.
Evidence of his beneficent nature, can be seen in his current staff. Mick Marshall initially employed a young man on a DWP work scheme, the move was a success and not only gave the employee a job but also gave him back his sense of pride. The man in question has now become an integral part of the business, with a full time position as a Picture Framer, trained by Mick himself. Subsequently, the business has given employment to additional young, creative people whom, with guidance and mentoring will help to drive the business forward
Mick Marshall is looking to give people hope for the future and inspire in them, something of that visionary spark that took a young lad, from Yorkshire to the bright lights of cosmopolitan London and back again.
Written by Michelle Dee
(Digital Media Journalist)