Q & A: Rita Mattia’s Antique Photographs

Lil' Rita Mattia

Q: Tell me briefly a little about yourself. What are your interests or your hobbies?

A: Rita Mattia is a Jersey Girl! I grew up in a mixed-ethnic family that included a lot of very noisy and creative Italian-Americans who liked to have their pictures taken. That may be why I have always had a powerful interest in photography and, really, all things visual. I’m also a manic knitter of objects that may be shaped like just about anything.

Q: What are your favorite blogs?

A: I follow just a few blogs (including this one) ~ and another by a dear friend who is a wonderful cook:


Q: Describe your style in two words:

A: Sorry, I have to answer in three words:  “Is she kidding?”

Lovingly restored and colored by Rita Mattia.

Q: Where did you get the idea or inspiration to restore vintage/antique photographs?

A: When I was a kid, we always had a shoebox or two of aging sepia photos tucked away, some modern-day photos trapped in toxic plastic photo albums, and a number of loose photos floating around in dresser drawers.

Years later, when family members passed away, unannounced boxes and photo albums arrived at my home. Then, once my cousins and other family members realized I was willing to be the caretaker of this trove, they began to send me their boxes, too!

Many of the photos were amazing. But none were framed and a lot were in pretty rough shape. Because of my long-time interest in fine art photography, I already had a professional grade large-format printer and considerable experience in Photoshop ®. So about three years ago, I decided the time had come to take on the boxes. My first priority was to sort all of the photographs into individual labeled acid-free sleeves and containers.

Before and after photo restoration. Image source: Rita Mattia

Q: When did you start selling your services?

A: That began only a year or so ago, as friends watched the “rogues gallery” of restored, framed family photos on my library wall expand.

Q: Can you share a special moment when you revealed to a client their restored photograph?

A: That’s hard to do that without also revealing details about other people’s families and lives. This kind of work is intensely personal; I am entrusted with irreplaceable family treasures and asked to “bring back” people and places and moments they hold most dear.

A few clients have openly wept. One said (on a hot summer day), “Well, you’ve solved my Christmas card for this year!” and an older gentleman was thrilled to see a devoted pet who had passed away 75 years before, practically jump off the page and into his arms.

Q: What are some popular styles of antique picture frames that you feel compliment these types of images? 

A: I love this question. A lot of the photos that come my way were taken between 1880 and 1920. So the earlier ones seem to cry out for something Victorian or maybe Art Nouveau ~ perhaps elaborate ovals with “bubble glass” ~  while the later ones ask for something more geometric/Deco. The Art Deco period also produced some wonderful glass “mats.”

Display antique photographs together in a group for visual impact.

Q: How can folks incorporate antique photographs into their decorating style? Do you have any project ideas that you’d like to share? Or decorating tips?

A: The things in my condo are beyond eclectic. What I always tell friends who look around and say, “I love it but I could never do something like this,” is this: Follow your bliss. Acquire things you really love, one or two at a time and, almost magically, they’ll work together. The theme is: You. And what is more “you” than your family?

I also made an investment that has really paid off. I had a professional art gallery display rail installed along a 30-foot long wall that spans several rooms in my condo. This means I can rearrange pictures and other artwork in minutes, without torturing the walls. Or banging my thumb with a hammer.

Q: Do you have a favorite flea market or place to look for your antique picture frames?

A: Best tip:  Almost every charity thrift store has a chaotic heap of old picture frames in a dusty corner. Take your allergy pill and expect to inhale dust and mildew while you go through every one of them. Then, clean your treasures well before bringing them into your home. (And watch out for holes that indicate insect damage. You don’t want to adopt hungry critters!)

To see inspiring (and often amusing) before-and-afters of my work, please visit mattia.com. I promise that after you see the sassy 1918 portrait of the woman with antennae, you’ll be glad you did.

What a snappy hat!!

Copyright 2012. The Savvy Seeker blog by Erin Hurley-Brown. All Rights Reserved.

2 thoughts on “Q & A: Rita Mattia’s Antique Photographs

  1. I love this interview with Rita! Everyone who reads this post really should take a moment to see her gallery of photos to fully appreciate just what she is able to accomplish. Not only does Rita know how to restore what years of neglect have taken away from photos, she also knows how to also present the images she works on to their very best advantage.

    I had asked Rita to restore an incredibly damaged photo of a WWI soldier that was almost beyond hope. What she was able to do was nothing short of a miracle. Rita provided me with a beautifully restored image of fresh faced man in his 20’s that once again looked no worse for wear. In fact, she lighted up some spooky background areas in the photo so that the image looked better than the original photo. Through her artistry, Rita was really able to bring the soldier back to life.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t also add that Rita is a realist. She will look at a photo before she starts working on it and advise her client what the image limitations are. She advised me about what could and what could not be accomplished so that my expectations were in alignment. For that, I was really grateful.

    If you have a treasured photo that needs restoration, I recommend contacting Rita!

  2. Agreed John! Rita can perform some serious miracles with these images. She restored a photo for me of my family’s former restaurant, that is actually featured in my post, “Why I Collect.” Thanks for sharing your story with us!

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