By William Butler
“First Do No Harm”, advice usually given to aspiring medical students, could also provide sage guidance to framers entrusted with protecting original art. Most conservators will agree that far too much of their business comes from the improper handling and poor methods used by picture framers when framing works on paper and canvas. While the picture framing industry has made great strides over the last ten years in educating framers about the use of proper methods and materials, there still exists a broad interpretation of what constitutes archival framing.
Although there are often compromises that must be considered when seeking the best esthetic presentation with the safest housing for the art, the most successful methods are usually the tried and true techniques that museums have employed for years, allowing the art to be preserved in its original condition as intended by the artist and protected against the damage of exposure to environmental elements. These methods employ only the least invasive techniques and materials and consider the long term effects of the housing within, as well as outside, the frame.
At the same time that the industry has focused on the importance of these factors, there also has been a rush to produce new materials and methods that can be marketed as being ’archival’. Without the benefit of testing these new materials for the long term effects of degradation at the museum level, the words ‘archival’ and ‘museum quality’ become meaningless.
Museums still prefer matting that is 100% cotton and acid-free or buffered with an alkaline reserve to be in contact with works on paper. Glazing should provide an ultraviolet filter and all other backing materials should be acid-free and assured against off-gassing. All wooden frame mouldings exposed to the inside of the frame should be sealed and all artwork should be adequately supported within the frame, preferably without any adhesives or hinged only with rice paper hinges.
Collectors should check references of the framer they are considering and ask specific questions regarding materials and methods being used. Ideally, the framer will have experience working at the museum level and be able to provide the proper assurances that the art will be well preserved, in its original condition. Museums and well respected galleries will often make recommendations of framers that are trusted within the community.
William Butler is President of Archival Art Services in Washington, DC and President of Xibitframe, Inc. and Matline, Inc. His studio has provided archival framing to museums, galleries and collectors for more than 25 years. He is also a patent holder and manufacturer of framing materials and tools.
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