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Conservation framing is like insurance for paper art. Anyone who has ever found an old photo album yellowing in the attic or a framed watercolor that is turning brown around the edges will understand the need to use products and techniques specifically designed to protect any piece of art that executed on paper.

For the small price difference between standard framing techniques and conservation techniques it is the cheapest insurance around. Local framer, Maggie Troutman of Innovative Designs, feels any piece of original art done on paper should be framed in this manner. Even if the art is not of investment quality today, it may increase in value in forty-year time. Also, artwork and photos that have been handed down in the family are of great sentimental value and deserve to be preserved for future generations.

The framing “package” consists of a top mat with a cut out window for the art; this mat is hinged to a backing board for stability. Then the art is also hinged to the backing board, covered with glass and this package is framed with wood molding. The mat separates the artwork from the glass and gives the paper room to expand and contract with the changes in temperature and humidity.

The need for conservation framing begins with the fact that paper is manufactured from wood pulp, which by nature has an acidic content. Mat board, cardboard and the foam core used in traditional framing for mats and backing materials also have a high acidic content. In time, the acid from the framing materials will leach out, burning the art and resulting in mat burn which leaves a brown stain following the shape of the window in the mat. Intense heat will activate the acidic mat board, cardboard and the art itself; paper art left in attics has a greater chance of mat burn.

Conservation framing uses 100% rag mat and rag mounting board, which is made from high-grade cellulose, obtained from cotton fibers. These products contain no acid and will not interact with the paper. If a piece has started to show signs of browning and discoloration, a new framing job using these materials will prevent the damage from getting worse.

The second component of conservation framing is the use of UV glass. It will block out 96% of harmful UV rays compared to 56% with regular glass. The difference in appearance between the two glasses and how it affects the color of the art is negligible. ”Unless the art is hung in a dark hall," notes Ms. Troutman, "even one minute of intense light per day will, in time, damage the art with or without UV glass. It is best that fine art not be hung in direct sunlight. Fluorescent lights in office buildings will fade colors in art also.”

The last part of this method is to use museum hinging when attaching the art to the mounting board. Says Ms. Troutman, “This means fashioning 'hinges' out of Japanese paper and attaching the art to them with wheat-starched paste which is all-natural glue and can be removed, if needed, with a small amount of water. Another way is making hinges from linen tape with water-activated glue.” The goal is to use as little attachment as possible to hold the art in place. Finally, Maggie Troutman seals all edges of the glass to the backing board with tape. That keeps bugs out, neutralizes humidity and keeps the art safer.

When asked how much additional conservation framing costs, she says, “Excluding the cost of the wood molding which is the most expensive material of any frame job, the other items cost about twice as much as in traditional framing." She adds that about 95% of all her framing is done in this manner.

So, if you have art that is worth the additional cost to preserve for your enjoyment and generations to come, inquire about conservation framing and ask what materials are used and by what method.

*Published in NFocus magazine in September 2000.


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