Frame it Right!
by Rebecca Pavitt
Anyone who has renovated an old house or been saddled with a leaky condo knows all too well that dreadful things can hide behind the smooth-faced surfaces of plaster and drywall. The same is true of framed art who knows what evil lurks behind that plain brown dustcover?
Canadian Pacific Conservators, Vancouver, BC
If your art was framed before 1980, you can be pretty darn sure there are some conservation no-nos like acidic matboard, cardboard, and horrible paper staining tapes in there. Even with more recent framing jobs, its quite possible that cost-consciousness and/or ignorance have put your art in a less than optimal environment.
To complicate matters, there are different standards of quality that even the best framer may work to. The perceived value of the art, the cost mindedness of the client and the framers bottom line can all affect the job you will get. Your best chance for getting a quality job is to be a well-informed consumer so that you can discuss particulars with your framer before work begins. What I describe here are the basics of Conservation Quality Framing, meant to protect and preserve art that you value.
Glazing: Ultra Violet filtering acrylic or glass will slow down (not prevent) fading and yellowing. There should be a space of at least 2mm between the surface of the art and the glazing, provided by a window mat or spacer. Pastels and other powdery/fragile media should be glazed with glass, not plastic, and may require a larger air space.
Matting: Always choose 100% rag or purified wood pulp, either neutral pH (for photographs) or with alkaline buffering, for the back mat and window mat. Colored matting must be water fast and fade resistant. All matting should be at least 4-ply thickness. There should be at least one inch between the edge of the matted artwork and the edge of the frame.
Attachment: This is biggest problem that framers face how to keep the artwork secure and reasonably flat in a way that is safe, and time/cost effective. A true Conservation Quality framing job will be completely reversible. This means no dry or wet mounting, and no self-adhesive "archival quality" tapes. Ideally, acid-free photo corners and/or edge strip supports can be used to secure the art to the backboard in an adhesive-free system. These can be custom made to suit the particular needs of your artwork. Unfortunately, these methods may not provide enough support for pieces on light-weight paper or for heavy, oversize pieces. Also, they cannot be used when artwork is "float mounted" to show its edges. In these cases the art should be attached to the backboard with hinges made from special long fibered paper (Japanese kozo paper) and wheat starch or methylcellulose adhesive. These materials are time tested and, in almost all cases, reversible, but using them requires some practice and takes a bit more time. Expect an additional charge. Remember: each artwork is different, and presents a unique challenge to the framer. There are no "ones size fits all" solutions in Conservation Framing.
Filler: This final backboard adds extra stability and protection to the artwork. Only acid-free paperboards, acid-free Fome-Cor, or Coroplast (corrugated plastic) should be used.
Optional: If your artwork is very moisture sensitive, or you are planning to hang it in a damp or dirty environment, the framing package can be wrapped in a thin sheet of Mylar plastic, which is taped to the front edges of the glazing material. Artsorb, a sheet form of silica gel, can also be added to the sealed framing package to regulate the interior moisture content.
Dust Cover: Ideally, the dustcover will be made from heavy weight, acid-free paper but because your art is already well protected, regular brown or black paper is an acceptable alternative.
Display: Think carefully about where you hang your art and support the picture wire on two wall hooks to distribute stress. Even the best framing job cannot protect your art from light, heat and moisture, or a wall too weak to support the frames weight.
Conservators and framers are professionals who work hand in hand to give the best care to your art. Artwork that is properly conserved, framed and maintained, will retain its appearance and value for generations to come.
For more information visit the FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards) website at www.artfacts.org.
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