(Excerpt from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)
For the artist, dealer, and collector the primary purpose of picture framing is to protect artwork, which is often an expensive proposition. In the past, mostly for economic reasons, protecting the artwork was often given a low priority and, in some cases, even ignored. Recent lawsuits, however, involving the deterioration of artwork through improper framing and storage have helped put things back into perspective. Artwork, if it is to have a reasonable chance of surviving decades or even generations, needs to be protected from acid air pollution, acid migration, mold, excessive humidity, ultraviolet light, infrared light, dramatic changes in temperature, insects, and metals such as iron and copper. Attempting to protect artwork from all these things is difficult, even for a museum with unlimited funds. Deciding what is reasonable protection for a particular piece of artwork that you have created or collected involves balancing various levels of protection against economic necessities. Complete protection can cost more than the current as well as the future value of the artwork. The level and type of protection selected should, therefore, be based on the type of damage that is most likely to occur. For example, framing an oil painting executed on canvas with a sheet of ultraviolet-light-filtering acrylic when the artwork will be exposed only to normal room lighting seems extreme. Since more artwork is seriously damaged by being framed or stored in contact with nonarchival materials, it would seem this area should have the highest priority.
Conservation framing, particularly with artwork executed on paper, can create an almost self-contained environment that provides reasonable protection against the most common hazards like acid pollutants, acid migration, mold, and insects. I have compiled several rules, as well as reasons for the rules, which relate to the proper protection of paintings and drawings. If these guidelines are followed or modified, with common sense, to your own needs, your artwork should be reasonably protected. I have also supplied the latest technical information about the materials used for framing. (The section on Paper, and Paper Boards, as well as the section on the application of varnishes, should be read before proceeding.) All this information will allow you to make a balanced decision about the protection a particular drawing or painting needs.
It is important to understand that the whole area of conservation framing, particularly of paper, has developed only recently. New materials for framing and conservation are being invented all the time, and guidelines for their use are constantly redefined. Until the nineteenth century, when papermaking machinery was invented, paper was not a material commonly available to artists. This invention made paper easily affordable and profitable for the first time. What followed was a great conversion of papermaking materials from primarily rag and linen to ground-wood pulp, which was sized with an alum-rosin combination. This conversion to less permanent and highly acidic materials peaked during the 1860s and its significance did not become clear until the turn of the century. Prevention and cures for the problems associated with the use of these materials were slow to develop, and it was not until the late 1960s that information on conservation framing began to appear in trade magazines for framers and artists. Unfortunately, most framers, as well as most artists, have not kept up to date and continue to use materials improperly or to use the wrong materials altogether. It is therefore entirely possible to find a frame shop that has been owned for generations by the same family producing fine-looking framing, yet using materials that not only do not protect the artwork but accelerate the aging process.
If you are not already a picture framer, this chapter is not designed to turn you into one. However, if you are an artist who wishes to protect your artwork properly, or a collector wishing to protect your collection, this chapter will help you understand the logic behind why and how certain materials and procedures are used in framing and storage.