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Gilding and Frames Conservation; Objects Conservation:

A frame can be used to complement, hang, or transport a two-dimensional work of art like paintings or works of art on paper. Frames can be ornate with intricate designs carved from wood which are then glided or they can be a simple metal design. No matter how you frame it, frames are often an integral part of the artwork, and when they are damaged a conservation treatment is necessary to restore the frame. While there are many different methods used to restore frames, a simple conservation repair of a gilded composition frame is discussed below.

An Example of a Simple Conservation Repair to a Frame

Frame restoration is one of the conservation services offered at McKay Lodge Conservation, and we are fortunate to have a professional gilder Dee Pipik on-site. There are many things which can cause picture frame damage such as: water, smoke, insects, birds, rodents, dust, accidents, and improper environmental conditions. Frame damage can occur quickly, or it can slowly happen over a long period of time.

One of the most common kinds of damage to frames is a loss of design elements. This might occur during handling, transport, or simply by accident. The exposed nature of frames, and especially the corners, makes them vulnerable to impact. Add to that the fact that frame materials can become brittle with age and it is easy to see how damage and loss can occur.

How Can We Conserve the Frame?

If the section or sections that were broken are recovered, they can often be reattached to the frame by a conservator with an appropriate adhesive. In this case, the frame restoration simply involves filling any minor losses around the break edges, then painting those fills in a matching color, if needed. Sometimes, however, you do not have all the pieces, or perhaps a previous repair was attempted with the wrong adhesive and/or the reattached pieces are misaligned.

If the broken piece (or pieces) were not recovered or they are too damaged to reuse, then replacements must be recreated. If the lost section is small, a mold-able material can be applied to the frame. A trained hand can then carve the material to match the original design. For larger areas of a loss, taking a negative mold of the existing design is required.

For this type of repair, a molding material is placed onto a section of frame where the design is complete and stable. Once the mold is removed, it has a negative impression of the design; this cavity is then used to cast a new section by filling it with composition putty (called “compo”), plaster or other carve-able material. Once the material is dried or cured, the new fill (or positive copy of the design) can be removed from the mold.

The new fill is then attached to the area of loss. If necessary, the fill is further modified by sanding, carving, or bulking up with additional material. Once the new area matches in shape, it is painted or gilded with gold leaf (or metal leaf) and toned to match the rest of the frame.

Documentation throughout the treatment including written reports and images is a tenet of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice as well as the use of reversible (or retreatable) materials for the compensation of any losses.

All the materials used in this frame restoration are reversible. Special care in documenting the process from the before treatment condition issues to the during treatment progress to the after treatment images was also a part of the art conservation treatment process.

After treatment, the frame is now ready for display.

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