What is Conservation Art Framing?
When dealing with the framing of fine art, the materials and design used must not only enhance the beauty of the work by continuing what the artist started, but needs to also protect and preserve the integrity and value of the artwork. Sadly, many people do not consider conservation when investing in fine art frames for their pieces of art, risking potentially irreversible damage. Art framing materials come in many types and many quality levels, only some of which are designed to protect and preserve the artwork for its lifetime. Making sure the materials you frame with are conservation quality is crucial when handling any piece that has value, inherent or sentimental. This process of designing and custom-picture-art-framing with museum quality materials intended to extend the life of the artwork is what is called ‘Conservation Art Framing’.
The Art Frame
Certain types of art framings and certain framing methods can leave your artwork open to severe environmental damage, or even directly damage or reduce the value of your works. Avoid these framing methods when conserving fine art:
Metal art frames are almost never conservation quality, and should be avoided for any work of art with value. The joints and backing on metal frames cannot be sealed in the way wooden frames are, leaving your artwork exposed to damaging environmental factors, from moisture, air, bugs, dirt and more. Valuable artwork must be sealed to protect it from exposure to such environmental elements.
Mass-produced factory made art frames, a.k.a Ready-Made Frames rarely ever use true conservation level materials, and thus are very likely to damage your artwork over time. Matting, backing boards, and mounts are most often made from non-rag papers that will burn your artwork and photographs and damage the fibers of the papers from the acids they contain. Additionally, many factory made frames do not use UV protective glazing, leaving your art open to permanent fading from light exposure.
Frames that are too small for the size of your artwork will not hold the weight of the art, mats, mounts and glass over time and will eventually fail leading to possible direct damage or exposure to environmental factors. The frame you use on your fine art must be heavy and sturdy enough to bear the weight of the entire design over the life of the framing. Structural integrity of the design is a key factor in protecting your artwork.
Art frames that do not use mats or spacers to separate your artwork from the glazing open your fine art to severe damage caused by condensation that can form on the inside of the glass in the framing design. Mats, either fabric or acid-free rag paper are designed to separate and put space between your artwork and the glazing. This space is a key protection for your artwork against humidity and condensation damage. If for design and aesthetic reasons, you do not wish to use a mat in your framing, special spacers can be used in the rebate of the frame to lift the glazing away from the artwork.
What type of protections do paper works of art need?
Even more than those on canvas or wood, artwork done on paper is very susceptible to environmental factors and damage. The fibers in a piece of paper expand and contract with variations in temperature, humidity, and light and can be severely affected by exposure to these and other factors. Paper reacts and interacts especially easily with certain chemicals, including the acids used in production of cellulose-based papers, boards and mats. We have all seen brittle, crumbling antique photographs and artwork that have severely yellowed, or browned (acid burns), developed dark spots (called foxing), or faded from exposure to damaging UV rays. These are the telling signs of damage to paper that results when materials and methods are used that do meet the level of ‘Conservation Art Framing’. Sadly, most of this damage can never be undone, and what can be reversed is quite costly.
Before you invest in art frames
If your artwork has already suffered damage from past exposures, a conservator can advise you on your options for restoration, if possible. In many cases, the best course of action may be to leave the piece as is, and merely move forward with protecting it from any further damage through museum quality conservation art framing with a qualified Master Framer, such as FrameStore. If restoration work is to be attempted, it must be completed before you bring the artwork in for framing. It is essential that you avoid certain practices that can lead to further damage of your art, and possibly greatly reduce its value:
Cutting, trimming, or folding artwork is always advised against. Any artwork with value can lose that value quickly if it is altered in any form, including personal inscriptions, notations, margin marks, etc. The art exists as it was intended to be by the artist, and any alteration of the piece carries a possible loss in value.
Dry-mounting, or Vacuum-mounting of valuable artwork is highly discouraged. These forms of mounts may help to flatten artwork that is waving or wrinkled, but will certainly reduce or negate the art’s value as the techniques use non-conservation materials and adhesives, and are irreversible for most types of art
Avoid the use of any tapes or adhesives not specifically designed for conservation level mounting of fine art. Masking tape, Scotch tape, etc will damage the paper and should never be used on artwork.