The Fine Art of Custom Framing

Frames are almost as important as what they surround. Custom-made or off-the shelf, they must work with the art, not against it.

Art began on the walls of caves, but it was not until centuries after mastodons were a popular subject that someone added a frame to a picture. Today, your home is your canvas. It expresses your palette and your style; it reveals what's important to you. Custom framing allows you to obtain something for your home that is uniquely yours. In many cases it may be the only thing that makes the accessories in your home different from those of anyone else.

A frame is much more than an accessory, though. It should enhance the composition of the piece it encloses, so that together, they make a visual whole. It should also create haromony between the piece and it's surroundings.

Today, there is a dazzeling wealth of frame options. The most important consideration is that the frame should be an itergral part of the piece being displayed. To most people, that means choosing a frame that fits the period of the artwork. In recent years, collectors have moved away from buying contemporary art and have abandoned contemporary metal frames for period frames, which are made of wood. Period frames are becoming collectible in their own right.

The most collectible frames now are Arts and Crafts frames, primarily carved or commissioned by American artists from the turn of the century to 1920. These gilded frames aren't all reminiscent of Arts and Crafts furniture, however. They look more like early Italian frames. Famous firms, such as Foster Brothers, which made frames for the American painters Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Abbott Handerson Thayer, and John Singer Sargent, produced many.

As I've stated, one should choose a frame that suits the period of the specific artwork, but within that context there are many ways to frame a painting. It is possible, for example, to put a contemporary piece in a seventeenth-century Dutch frame that picks up the movement of the brushstrokes. Consider aesthetics as well as authenticity.

You should also think about where, and with what, your artwork will hang. As part of a cluster of artwork, it can be presented in a frame that compliments the others.

But--Caution! You are framing for the art, not the room! A work of art is not a throw pillow you're matching to the sofa!
Remember, Sofas come and go, but quality art is forever!

Okay, we've discussed aesthetics, now let's get technical!

After fifteen years of working in the framing industry, I'd like to share with you some of the skills I've learned, and the methods I use for framing.

Today, more people are aware of the importance of conservation,or archival framing, and ask for it. All but low-end framers are committed to using some kind of archival material in their work.

Conservation framing employs acid-free materials--hinges, mat board, backing--to keep the buildup of vapors from the framing materials and the decomposition of material in the artwork itself. Over time, acidic vapors cause staining, fading, embrittlement, and deterioration.

To understand the importance of conservation framing, consider what happens to newspaper clippings you've saved. They fade, grow brittle, and disintegrate. Conservation materials, however, are said to be stable for one hundred years.

Conservation mat board should be made of a 100-percent cotton rag or high alpha-cellulose-content, virgin pulp that conatians no acids and no lignins, (polymeric substances in the cell walls of plants that turn paper brown when they oxidize). The metallic content of mat boards should not exceed residual amounts.

Works on paper, if they are to be archivally framed, are attached to mounting boards with hand-torn pieces of Japanese paper--often made of mulberry--and a starch adhesive, hinges made of acid-free linen tape, or self-adhesive (to board, not to art work) acid-free mounting corners.

Acid-free backing, including fome-cor: semitransparent, corrugated polypropylene, and corrugated, lignin-free board, seal the package. Ideally, backings should be both puncture-resistant and water resistant. Mats, hinges, and backing should also be reversible, or capable of being removed without affecting the artwork.

Currently, I use regular glass for framing, which blocks out about 47 percent of ultraviolet light. Conservation glass, which has a silica-based coating to inhibit damaging rays (it filters out about 97 percent of UV), is available but is a bit more expensive. I'd also like to dispel a myth here--There is a misperception amony many people that non-glare glass is UV protectant. It is no more UV protectant than regular glass. If you choose to use non-glare because you like the look, or because "it costs more, so it must be better", that's fine. (I personally do not use it, you'll never find a museum quality piece behind non-glare. It cuts down on the clarity of the art). But don't believe because you've purchased non-glare glass, your artwork is totally protected against UV light.

When it comes to glass and UV let common sense prevail. Don't take your priceless Da Vinci pencil study, (or your four-year-old's first artistic endevour, for that matter,) put it into a frame and hang it directly across from your cathedral size window, where it will take a beating from the sun for twelve hours a day. Put it in a "shady" area of your home. You can still have a beautifully framed work of art across from that window by hang a poster or an inxepensive reproduction, which, after a year or two, can simply be replaced with a new one.

Although using conservation materials adds to the cost of framing, you should use the best materials you can afford to protect work with monetary or sentimental value.
If it's worth framing, it's worth framing archivally!

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