When someone hears the phrase “conservation framing” it’s likely that he/she may have a slightly bewildered look or blank stare. What makes conservation framing different from regular framing? Conservation. Isn’t that what museums do to keep historic documents from crumbling? Is conservation a fancy word frame shops use to jack up prices? Let’s walk through the differences, and the pros and cons of both.
Whether we’re fixing the glass on an older picture or re-framing it, there are several recurring traits that are very harmful to the artwork. These pictures usually suffer from acid migration, deterioration, yellowing and mechanical damage (such as tearing, slitting, cracking, etc.). Here are a few methods and materials used in non-conservation framing and their negative effects:
- In the past, corrugated cardboard or chipboard was widely used for its stability and strength, however, acid within the board leaks into artwork causing discoloration.
- Mats were previously made of wood and left acid burn on the front of the artwork.
- Regular framing glass provides little protection against UV rays, leaving documents and art susceptible to losing their color intensity.
- Rabbets (the groove inside of a frame that holds its contents) are sometimes left unsealed. This often leads to damage on the side of the artwork from wood mouldings that can make paper brittle with time.
- If dust covers aren’t used, paper-eating insects, dust, and foreign objects can easily slip inside the frame wreaking more havoc on your picture.
- Originals, photos, or delicate art that is framed straight against glass will often have mold and adhere to the glass, possibly tearing the face of the print or photograph.
- Abrasive, acidic adhesives that are used to mount or hinge artwork can result in tearing and ripping later on.
Framing without conservation in mind may result in a decent presentation at first, but it’s potentially catastrophic for the work. Choosing what appears to be a lower-priced option can compromise the longevity of your piece. In ten, fifteen—even five—years your beloved print could be yellowed, making it look extremely aged. Once a print or document has endured acid migration or a similar condition, no amount of re-matting or framing will hide it. You’ll be forced to restore the piece, which is certainly a larger bill than conserving at the onset!
There are times when non-conservation framing is ideal for the situation. For example, say you find a cool Beatles poster to hang up in your rec room. Posters don’t hang on their own, and you don’t want to tape it to the walls, so a nice black frame would be a great way to display it. But let’s be clear—this poster is hardly important. In fact, if you moved two years from now you’d gladly toss it in transit, but for now it’s a fun addition to the décor. This is when non-conservation framing really works. Grabbing a ready-made poster frame that is unsealed, has regular glass, and no spacers, is the perfect choice for this project. It allows you to display the picture for a good price, with no need to conserve since it’s not monetarily or personally valuable.
Now let’s switch things up. Say your brother gave you a poster signed by a famous movie director. This poster means a lot to you personally (and the autography is probably worth some $$), so you don’t want anything to happen to it. Conservation methods should be used in this case to ensure the poster won’t be damaged or faded. You’ll want to ask for the whole nine yards: acid-free materials, spacers, conservation glass, sealed rabbet, and a dust cover.
This is just one example of when non-conservation framing is an okay choice. For most items conservation is the way to go, but there are things to consider. If you’re headed to a custom framer, chances are you care about the item, but sometimes, as in our previous poster scenario, framing could simply be a necessity for display. It comes down to Value and Sentimentality.
Value alone doesn’t dictate worthiness of conservation. It might seem like common sense to conserve a Picasso you found in your attic that’s worth $1 million. Did you know that a $10 signed print from a little-known artist should be conserved too? Even though it may cost the same as a mass-produced Wal-Mart print, it’s a signed piece of work from an artist that could be very meaningful and will increase in value over time. Although you may not have spent considerable money on the artwork, always remember that signed, original or limited edition art appreciates. On the flip side, items that are very sentimental to us, should always be conserved, even if there is no monetary value. A friend’s drawing may have special meaning. That same Beatles poster we didn’t conserve a few minutes ago, might be worth the world to someone whose spouse went to every music store in the country looking for that particular poster. If the item tugs at your heartstrings (meaning the thought of damaging it makes you cringe) you should have it conserved.
And always remember, a tight budget does not mean you can’t conserve your work. There are ways to use conservation materials without breaking the bank (such as omitting mats, using metal or simple wood mouldings, etc).
Now that we’ve discussed framing without conservative efforts, what happens when you are framing for the long-term and concerned about the longevity of your artwork? That’s where conservation framing comes in.
The term conservation framing refers to techniques and materials framers use to protect art on paper from water damage, foxing, acid migration and more. Many specialty frame shops like ours use conservation materials. What does this mean?
- acid-free mat board that doesn’t yellow and won’t stain your art
- acid-free backing board that prevents acid migration and yellowing on the back of your art
- assorted tapes that seal the rabbet, keeping wood away from your art and bugs from inside the frame
- spacers that keep your artwork from molding, buckling, and adhering or transferring to glass
- acid-free hinges that secure artwork without causing damage
While conservation framing may increase the cost of your project, it’s a worthwhile investment. You should always check to see if your framer uses acid-free materials. Consider options such as conservation clear, museum, and anti-reflective glass in place of regular glass. These can give you more protection against UV rays so your artwork won’t fade, especially if it’s hanging in a bright location. Contemporary matboards made from cotton won’t yellow your artwork. Spacers are self-adhesive strips that attach to glass and create space between the glazing and artwork, so your document won’t mold, buckle, adhere to the glass, or suffer from image transfer (i.e., George and Paul’s faces staying on the glass when you lift the poster from its frame). Spacers can be used when you are framing shallow dimensional work or when you’ve chosen not to use a mat (otherwise the mat provides sufficient space). Sealing the rabbets is crucial to keeping wood-boring bugs and beetles away from your art. Sometimes wood mouldings can have insects inside that chew on the wood. If your rabbets are unsealed, Mr. Bruce Bugsworth (AKA Paper Enemy No. 1) can eat through the frame and straight across your beloved Beatles.
Ask if your framer can use an acid-free spray to seal old documents or crafts. This is a great way to protect photos, collages and more that may not be made of acid-free materials. Here are some examples of good candidates for conservation framing:
- original artwork
- fine art prints
- sentimental photos
- autographed material
- rare or historic documents
- fragile paper art
- children’s art projects
- degrees and awards
Everything that is framed should be handled with care, which is why we use acid-free materials on all projects unless the customer explicitly asks otherwise, and we always explain full conservative options that are available. The result is beautifully framed pieces that will never deteriorate. You want to protect and present your piece. Conservation framing will ensure that years from now the print you just purchased while on vacation at an art show is protected from damage and aging. Please keep in mind that this is just an overview—the field of conservation framing is vast and detailed. To learn more about custom framing, conservation, and more follow our blog!