Framing & Storage

(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 wasFraming 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.

Guidelines Concerning Art on Paper

Guidelines Concerning Art on Canvas and Panels

Mounting Systems

Glazing with Glass or Plastic


Aesthetics in Framing

Picture Hanging