Press Release: Wendi Miller Retires after 50 years of picture framing

East Liberty Frame Shop was a Nexus of Pittsburgh Artists and Transgender Activism

February 21, 2023

Pittsburgh, PA

Wendi Miller NightWendi Miller Night is a one-night only screening and exhibition (6pm, Nov 2nd, 2023) focused on the impact of professional framer, trans-activist, artist, and loving parent Wendi Miller. Join the PQHP for this 7th iteration of MS89 with our co-hosts, the friends and family of Wendi, including her son Cooper and TransPitt sister, Robyn Michaels. We’ll retrace the grassroots organizing that forged Pittsburgh’s city level trans protections and person-to-person gestures that keep us alive. RSVP to the Free Event

After 50 years in business, East Liberty’s Wendi Miller is retiring and closing Miller Frame in on Centre Avenue. The owner and craftsperson served a significant cross section of artists over the course of nearly 5 decades. At the same time, she provided critical support for transgendered people as a former president of Transpitt and co-founder of the Pittsburgh Transsexual Support Group (PTSG). Miller Frame provided rare employment of trans-people who were unable to find employment due to discrimination. For over 30 years of its run (1994-2017), Miller Frame was staffed solely by trans-women.

Clients Big and Small

The Miller Frame stamp can be found behind artwork all over Pittsburgh. Miller collaborated with painter Bob Qualters on his first mural, took on personal framing jobs for Fred Rogers, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Willie Stargell, Bill Cowher, and did high-profile work for the Federal Reserve, University of Pittsburgh, PNC Bank, UPMC, Penn Station, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, PPG, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Although she loved large pieces, she rarely turn away small jobs, making framing affordable for everyone.

Art and Activism

Wendi had a sex change operation and her son accepts her.On the national stage, her activism took her to The Ricki Lake show in 1996, the first Trans Lobby Day in 1995 and protests at the U.S. Capitol. In the meantime, the secret headquarters of the PTSG operated out of the rear of the frame shop, offering refuge and support for LGBTQ+ people in Pittsburgh and nationwide.

An Historic East Liberty Building

6020 Centre Ave circa early 1990

After operating on Winthrop Street in Oakland, Miller expanded into 6020 Penn Circle on Valentine’s Day in 1982.  The ground floor of 6020 was previously occupied by The Jonas Studio, a portrait photography studio operated by photographer Hans Jonas since 1946. Jonas inherited the studio from his father Herman Jonas, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp and formerly royal photographer for the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph.

Timeline of Events

The framing business began in 1973 as a partnership between CMU sculpture undergraduate William Miller, painter Geri Taper and sculptor Tom Brunger. 

After less than a year, Miller bought out the partners and with the help of KingPitcher gallery owner Philo Pitcher, Miller moved into a modest storefront on Winthrop St in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

There in 1981, Miller collaborated with renowned local artist Bob Qualters to decorate the Winthrop building facade with what would be the first of his many public murals. Included in their mural were panels of a cartoon by artist Tim Menees, due to his uncanny but coincidental 1977 depiction of a frame-shop called Miller’s U-FRAME IT SHOP.

In 1989, Miller began the transition from her assigned gender to become Wendi. She joined a “cross dressing” social club called Transpitt and by 1993 she became its president. Due to the lack of emotional, financial, and medical support for transgendered people, she worked with a group of trans-women to start a non-profit in 1995: the Pittsburgh Transsexual Support Group.

The small group of 20 members took calls from around the area, but due to their presence in online chat forums they often received long distance calls from around the world. In late 1996, the Ricki Lake show consulted PTSG for an episode and Wendi earned her “15 minutes of fame” when she was a guest on the show.

Wendi Miller has donated framing to Persad, Animal Friends, The Heart Association, PFLAG, Pittsburgh Center of the Arts, Pittsburgh Artists League. 

She has trained framers that went on to work at moulding suppliers LeWinter and Larsen-Juhl and others who have worked at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The Pittsburgh City Council has honored her legacy by declaring April 8th, 2023 to be Wendi Miller Day. The Proclamation was sponsored by Council member Bruce A. Kraus.

Pittsburgh City Council Proclamation

Wendi was in hospice at home in March and made her final transition on April 6th, 2023.

Wendi’s Obituary

If you are an experienced framer and interested in continuing the 40 year framing legacy in a 3,300 sqft frame shop on 6020 Centre Ave, call 412-661-0575.

Download Press Release and photos
Photos: Cooper Miller