Keeping an Eye on the Future: Preservation Framing Becomes the Norm

Article excerpt

More than a decade ago, David McGuire, owner of McGuire Fine Arts Gallery and Framing in Frederick, Md., tried to sell UV-coated glass to one of his customers for a framing project. She declined. "She has since come in, apologized and said the pieces faded and she did not enjoy them any more," he said.

Today, McGuire, like many framers, said that he performs preservation framing on nearly all his jobs. With the wider selection of conservation-quality products available, and with customers coming in to frame shops armed with archival-process knowledge, framers and vendors are reporting a preservation trend that shows no signs of fading.

In its "Guide to Preservation Matting and Framing," the U.S. Library of Congress defines preservation flaming as "the appropriate housing to display the intrinsic beauty and interest of an object while prolonging its life by securing the object in a mechanically and chemically safe environment." More specifically, it must protect the artwork from such environmental factors as air pollution, heat, humidity and light while doing no harm to the piece. The Library of Congress provides basic guidelines for materials and techniques that must be used to accomplish this on its Web site.

Standards and techniques for preservation framing are also available on the Web site of the framing group FACTS (Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards), which acknowledges that the specifications put forth by the Library of Congress are a good foundation but "are incomplete as a workable guide due to the great variety of [archival] materials."

The Professional Picture Framers Association's (PPFA) educational programs are based on conservation framing products and techniques, according to William Parker, president of the group's national board of directors. The PPFA's certification programs promote archival skills, and its recertification program makes sure framers' skills stay current.

"Archival framing techniques and products should be a part of every custom frame shop's skill set because it addresses the three Ps: preservation, protection and profit," said Parker. "Our job as custom framers should always be to err on the side of preservation. It is not our job to guess what will have value in the future."

Long-Term Profit

Around the same time that McGuire was trying to convince his customers to buy into UV-coated glazing, James Jut, owner of Artisan Gallery and Custom Framing in Fort Wayne, Ind., was working at a Deck the Wails store. "We were doing $250,000 on a yearly basis when I started," he said. Six years later, when he left to start his own shop, "we were approaching $750,000.... The difference was we were offering conservation framing and personalized flames.... We were busier and more profitable." It's a philosophy he brought to his own business.

"When you get into conservation framing, it's more work, and it takes more expertise and more time," Jur said. But, he said, it makes financial sense in that he makes more money per framed piece. "People are not afraid to purchase a better-quality product," he said.

Perhaps embracing the advice of the Library of Congress--which tells consumers to "be educated ... by keeping abreast of new preservation techniques and materials used in this field"--more and more customers are coming in to frame stores with at least some knowledge of preservation framing. "It makes it easier for us," said McGuire. "We don't have to sell them on the idea. They usually come in knowing it's worth it."

Frame shop owners such as Kimberley Breil of Frame and Picture Shoppe in Wilbraham, Mass., sell customers on conservation at the design counter. After she shows the customer the flaming options and tells them the price, she explains that the framing is all "conservation quality," and there is usually no problem with the price. "The customer is more comfortable spending money if they know it will look the same down the road as when I hand it to them," she said. …