Border Patrol
It pays to have your beIoved artwork correctly framed.

By Christine Richard
St. Charles Avenue Magazine's Antiques and Art, 2004

Remember that Roben Doisneau poster of the French couple kissing—or did you lean towards reproductions of Van Goghs and Klimts? No matter, you probably mounted the $15 poster on cardboard with glue and framed it in cheap, thin metal. In college, that was art, and that was its framing. But now that we're grown-up about art—buying original oils on canvas, antique prints, historic photograph-- (maybe an original Doisneau?)—we need to frame responsibly. That means that framing should not only accentuate the artwork, but conserve it.

"Framing is an art in itself," savs Joni Briles, owner of frame shop J. Briles Gallery.

Rule No. 1 is to choose a frame that isn't going to detract from the art, "When you go into some frame shops, they're all too happy to show you a hot-red mat. But when you hang it, you'll see a giant red square and not the art. With a lot of framers, the first mistake they make is that they get carried away with the framing and they forget that there is art in the frame."

Framers say the best way to choose molding and mat is to try them on. Bring the artwork to a framing shop, and with the guidance of a reputable framer, mix and match different colors and styles.

"It usually just jumps out at you," says artist Frederick Guess, who has that sort of epiphany when framing his own works. "Each artwork is unique and makes its own set ot rules. It's better to go and try several [mats and frames]," he explains. One thing to avoid, though, is the "peering through the window look," Guess says. "You want to feel like the frame isn't there."

You also want to consider briefly where the art will hang in your house, but don't let location dictate the frame style. The art itself should be first consideration. Plus, you might move or redecorate.

"You want to complement the mood of the painting," says portrait artist Sharon Marie Chester about the goal of framing.

"Sometimes the frame is more the art than the art," Chester states. She wouldn't be exaggerating. There are thousands of molding choices hanging in frame shops today, mostly woods hut some metals. Pretty designs on the moldings include etched dragonflies, criss-cross patterns, gold leafing underlay, and raised decorative elements.

Some moldings are such pieces ot artwork that they can even be used to turn a plain mirror into an elegant centerpiece, or a child's crayon drawing into an eye-catching piece.

Blake Vonder Haar scours the globe for vintage and antique frames and carries them at the New Orleans Conservation Guild and The Antique and Vintage Frame Gallery. She is president and conservator-in-charge.

Among her stock are valuable 15th-century frames. These types of moldings are certainly appropriate when framing original oils by masters. "An old painting can look ridiculous with a new frame. The styles don't jive," Vonder Haar explains.

As with many things old, "the quality of the frame is so much better than what is made now," she says. "Older frames are handmade, hand carved and hand finished."

Vonder Haar says a few modern-day frame makers do carry on the tradition of fine craftsmanship. The two she cites are Abe Munn and AMCI.

Briles carries a wide variety of frames as well and says the trend now seems to be silvers, as long as they're not shiny and gaudy. Another trend is "the distressed wood look," she says.

Another important element of framing is the mat. Practically, the holds the glazing off the surface of the artwork, Vonder Haar explains. "It also creates a visual border... and it can disguise the edges of the artwork," she says.

Even though there are many colors available, most framers choose neutral, because they won't downplay the art. They also look elegant.

Other options Briles offers are French matting, an embellishment put directly on the mat; and custom wrapped mats, wrapped in silks, cottons and linens for a textured look.

While many people think of framing as aesthetic, it is also a practical undertaking—if you want your art to last into a new century. Good framers use archival materials. Pulp-based materials (papers, cardboards) emit acid and will destroy artwork over time, Available to framers today are archival (acid-free) mats, backings hinges and fasteners made of materials such as cotton and rice paper.

Glazing also protects art on paper from foreign elements and, importantly, ultraviolet rays, which fade the colors over time. (Oils on canvas should never use glazing; the painting needs to breathe.)

The choices in glazing are acrylic or Plexiglas, and regular glass, both of which offer protection from UV rays. Vonder Haar recommends Plexiglas or acrylic if weight is a consideration or if there is risk of breakage (for example, the art is being shipped).

Also, artwork should never be placed against the glazing, says Denise Berthiaume, owner of LeMieux Galleries, which has a frame shop. The image will stick, leaving a ghostly image on the glass. Another no-no is acrylic with pastels. Acrylic acts as a magnet with pastels, lifting the artwork up onto it.

The frame shop at LeMieux has many choices in glazing, ranging from anti-glare or non-reflective glass to museum quality—"this glass is scary to work with," Berthiaume says, "because it's like there's nothing there." Prices vary considerably, with regular glass costing $8.75 for a 16-by-20 piece of art, and museum quality totaling $140 for that same size.

To promote the importance of conservation, Berthiaume is circulating flyers to gallery customers for a free conservation check-up: "Is your artwork dying a slow death?" Sinee the conservation movement got started only about 15 to 20 years ago, many artworks are not framed using archival materials.

A common conservation faux pas Vonder Haar sees is the dry mounting of originals. "You completely destroy the value of the art," she says.

The state of original art -should never be manipulated. Berthiaume adds folding and cutting art to fit into the frame to the list of what not to do.

For any kind of art, improper framing can do more damage than good, but particularly with a photograph, says, Philip Ricks, a framer at A Gallery For Fine Photography. (A Gallery has a frame shop for its gallery customers only.)

Special considerations include using archival corners to fasten photographs to the frame. Ricks also recommends using acrylic glazing rather than glass. Glass has a green hue to it that is noticeable when you hold it against white paper; it changes the photograph to a certain extent, he explains.

Also, metal frames are best for photographs, because they don't release harmful gases, Ricks says. When wood frames are used, framers must be careful to line the wood with acid-free tape.

A photograph must also he handled properly. Don't crease it—that will damage the emulsion; store photographs in an acid-free environment, such as a Mylar sleeve, use cotton gloves when handling a photograph.

Whatever medium you are framing, however, perhaps it is wise to consider this most important golden rule: If you've just spent money on a valuable piece of art, don't scrimp on the framing.

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