Monday, August 1, 2011

Framing Mistakes To Avoid

Wire attachment with pounded nails on the
framing of an oil painting by Art Price.

In retrospect, it appears that my father didn't have a talent for hanging paintings.  There was nothing wrong with the canvas boards or the frames that he purchased, but apparently it was a mistake to pound nails into the frame and then string wire across them.

Susan Blakney, painting conservator and owner of West Lake Conservators, examined my father’s framing work dubiously.  “This stiff wire attachment is pretty bad,” she said.  “As a rule, never pound a nail into a frame.”

As Susan explains, framing is an important element that can (and should) both enhance the painting and protect it.  But when the framing is done improperly, it can put the artwork at risk.  Storage becomes a huge concern, especially since homeowners often store paintings together.  “Stacking paintings can cause damage.  The nails and screw eyes can easily abrade and poke the painting below or above them.”  Susan doesn’t recommend using nails. Always try to use screws with
metal clips made for framing, mending plates bent to
Detail of the
wire attachment.
conform to the reverse profile or a mirror hanger, to avoid jarring both the frame and the paint layer. Instead of a screw eye for the hanging wire, “I prefer a mirror hanger,” because it usually has two or more holes for screws to distribute the weight she said.  The two screws securing the hanger also should be positioned in the same line as the wire so all the weight is not put on the top screw at an angle defeating the purpose. A single screw eye often pulls out over time unless the painting and frame are very light.

During a painting examination, Susan always looks for evidence of dents and holes in the frame from previous installation or removal and even hanging to see if they line up with holes in the stretcher or if the frame has been turned upside down, to reconstruct the painting’s framing history.  On one of these paintings, the framing nail was pounded in and then beaten over, causing some damage to the frame’s structure.  As a result, the painting wasn't well supported and it had begun to fall through on one corner. Finishing nails are often found improperly driven through the stretcher bars and into the frame causing the wood to split, unnecessary vibration and damage to the wood when excavating the heads to un-frame.

The quality of the framing is important.  “Canvas board supports will warp if not evenly secured,” Susan warned.  “When there are humidity swings, the pressure points on the board will deform.”  When a canvas is stretched on a stretcher and there are no keys in the bar's corners or the tacks have been spaced too widely, ripples in the canvas can result.  “Some people skimp on stretcher bars,” she said.  “They shouldn’t.  A stretcher is like the foundation of a house.  If the paintings aren’t square, they won't even be able to lay flat on the wall.”

© 2011 Lee Price

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