Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Frame and Beyond

I have a box of old photographs that I bought for a dollar.  They attracted me because most of them were images of Chicago, my hometown.  One of them shows the football stadium, Soldier Field, under construction.  It’s a lovely image, and  has historical interest.  Unfortunately it is glued to school-grade construction paper with an Elmer’s type glue.  To remove the photo from this unsightly and potentially damaging background is a tedious procedure, and a difficult one.  If only its original owner  had had the benefit of a frameshop staffed with knowledgeable people like Brian Goff !
Brian is a framer extraordinaire at Creative Framing in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since my work and his often intersect when I am working on a restoration project, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to gain his perspective on the care and display of art and objects. 
As with everything, frames are widely available on the internet.  So, why go to a bricks-and-mortar frameshop ?  Brian asserts, “for artwork you really care about, go to someone who designs frames.  A frame is a bridge between the art and the home. Custom framing is expensive, but the value is in getting interesting results, something unique.”  He points out that an experienced framer can help put an eclectic art collection together.  For example,  an abstract painting could “work” in a traditionally furnished home, even if other art on the wall is traditional.  Frames can actually help one work of art relate to another.  Brian’s own preference is for clean, simple lines and single mats that play on the subtlety of the object or artwork he is framing, but there are times when a client prefers a more complex treatment using multiple mats and on those occasions, he takes that approach. 
According to Brian, the three most important considerations when choosing a frame are these:

1.Know your budget and let the framer know, so that s/he can steer you to feasible choices at the outset.
2. Frame “to the piece” rather than “to the room.”  A mat does not necessarily have to match the drapes.
3. Think about scale.  You can make a small painting eye-catching by using a large or colored frame.

 We talked about the importance of using archival materials in framing.  Interestingly, customers are much more educated now about acid free adhesives and mounting materials than they were even ten years ago.  As a restorer, I see first-hand the damage done by scotch tape and Elmer’s glue. Although I can  cover up the yellowing caused by these adhesives I cannot undo it.  Exposure to these materials will make paper supports brittle and prone to tearing or crumbling.
Brian points out that owners of art and photos do not always anticipate the value of what they have.  Family photos (and photos of Soldier Field)  are a case in point.  In the future they may gain historical or aesthetic value.  
I would also add that an experienced framer can alert you to any conditions in your artwork that need to be addressed.  If you have lived with a painting on a daily basis, you might not realize that it has darkened over the years, but somebody experienced in framing artwork will be able to level with you, letting you know that the painting for which you are prepared to spend a substantial sum is not looking its best.
Not surprisingly, since Creative Framing develops long-standing relationships with customers, the shop has had unique and important projects.  Recently, Brian framed an admission ticket to Abraham Lincoln’s funeral.  It goes without saying that he used archival photo mounts.  The shop also framed copies of the Declaration of Independence just in time for display at Monticello’s naturalization ceremony.  Brian found the project interesting because he worked with a designer based in northern Virginia who created computer images of the room where the documents were to be displayed.  These images helped when it came to choosing the type of frame and the thickness of the mat.
Having the opportunity to handle a piece of history is one of the parts of his job that Brian enjoys most.  Speaking with him made me realize how important it is to work with a frameshop where each piece is valued. We are custodians as well as owners and collectors.