I recently attended a free lecture about “Caring For Your Family History”. I knew this would be my kind of presentation because not only am I the designated history keeper in my family, but I also employ a lot of archival methods in my art studio.
The seminar was hosted by the Canmore Public Library and the Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre and featured the extensive knowledge and experience of conservator and book artist, Dea Fisher, and the museum’s Collections Manager, Amanda Sittrop.
We learned a lot about avoiding the risks of damp, mould, dust and dirt through safe handling and storage methods, plus other ways to make our cherished memories last for generations to come. There was also excellent information about preserving photos and other documents, but the one thing that resonated with me was the information they provided on the importance of conservation materials and acid-free papers.
My parents own one of my original watercolor paintings. It’s the first one I allowed anyone to put in a frame. It features the famous lighthouse of Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, and it’s proudly displayed in their hallway. At a recent family gathering, the painting was knocked off the wall and the glass broke.
There was a collective gasp, but the painting was not damaged and I offered to repair it in my studio where I frame my own artwork. What I saw when I opened up the damaged frame reinforced what I knew: archival framing matters. I could see what happens when it’s not done.
The mat board chosen by the original commercial framer on the Peggy’s Cove artwork was not acid-free and I could see the tell-tale yellowing of the matt without opening the frame. But, when I opened the frame, here is what I was shocked to see:
- The mat board (not acid-free) had stained the watercolor original where it touched the painting
- The framer had used plain old cardboard to back the frame, and the acid from this low-grade backing stained the back of the original artwork
- The painting’s back was directly lying on more acidic mat board to keep it flat
- The framer had used regular masking tape to tape the watercolor to the mat board and not only was it yellow and brittle, but left a gross residue on the back of the artwork when pulled off
Here is how I fixed it. My parents did not want to change the mat color, nor did they want the expense of completely reframing the piece. So, I cut a barrier acid-free mat that I slipped between the current mat and the painting, so the painting wouldn’t continue to directly touch the old mat.
I also hinged the artwork to the mat using archival framer’s linen tape. I then reframed the whole piece, sealed the back with breathable framer’s tape to stop dust from getting in but allowing moisture out.
The piece is happy back in its frame, and back up on the wall. My parents are happy, and I know that my art will go on through the years with less damage than has occurred for the last 33 years.
About ten years ago, I took a course from a master framer to learn how to frame my own art. What I was surprised to learn was the importance of using quality archival materials. He absolutely insisted that we frame art with acid-free everything, even if it seemed more expensive, because (as he put it), “It’s an investment in the future of your art.” This was a very real example of just that.
Today (and since I’ve started my professional art career), my limited edition prints are all printed on superb-quality acid-free/archival quality paper, and framed with high-quality acid-free matboard and foamcare. My packaged prints (unframed) are also nested with acid-free foam core and covered using polypropylene plastic sleeves which are used in conservation storage. Any prints not packaged for sale are stored in a dark drawer and interleaved with acid-free tissue paper.
Luckily, I was told how important this was early on in my art career by my teacher, the master framer. I am thanking him today for passing along his knowledge, knowing that these precautions will carry my art gently through time.