MOA Behind-the-Scenes: Framing Art

We had a chat with the MOA’s Head of Fabrication, John Adams, to learn more about the process of building frames from scratch and a little bit about how and why the Museum first started building our own frames. John has been in the process of building a frame for St. Michael the Archangel, a featured painting in Shaping America, the Museum s current exhibition of American works from our permanent collection.

According to John, the reasoning behind the Museum’s in-house framing originally came down to budget restraints. About 15 years ago, the Museum needed to purchase about $250,000 worth of frames, and there wasn’t enough funding for it. John and his supervisor were asked if they could do the job. After conducting significant research, going to workshops and learning the necessary skills, they started constructing original gold leaf frames.

“We ended up framing 110 works for the Museum that year and saved over $300,000 in framing costs,” John said. “It started there and has turned into a process we continue today.”

Currently, John leads a fabrication team of BYU students who work at the Museum. The team recently finished constructing the St. Michael the Archangel frame. Although they worked on this project off and on for about 10 months, purchasing a frame like this would have easily cost the Museum somewhere between $7,000 and $9,000.

“We didn’t want to rush it,” John said. “We wanted to make sure this project was done right.”

A lot of research and work went into completing the new frame, like most frames that are built here. Before starting a project, John typically learns as much as he can about the artist, the time period the piece was created, the geography and history surrounding the work and even the artist’s framing preferences.

He said this frame is different from any of the others he has built.

“Most of the frames we’ve constructed for the Museum are for works of American Impressionists,” he said. “This was a very fun challenge because of the Spanish style frame we needed. We try to stay as authentic as possible to the period and style of the artwork.”

After John met with Marian Wardle, the Museum s Curator of American Art, and settled on a design that was fitting to the work, they began the process of building the frame.

Scroll through the photos below to learn more about the steps and processes John s team took to build the frame!

 

About 3/4 of the composition ornaments for this frame were produced in-house. This process of pressing and molding ornaments has been around since the 1700s. Other than using more modern techniques, the process has changed very little since then.

About 3/4 of the composition ornaments for this frame were produced in-house. This process of pressing and molding ornaments has been around since the 1700s. Other than using more modern techniques, the process has changed very little since then.

Our team started with a photo of the frame they wanted to produce and worked from there to get to the finished product. Before starting the actual frame, the team constructed a corner sample and layout to verify that the proportions were correct.

Our team started with a photo of the frame they wanted to produce and worked from there to get to the finished product. Before starting the actual frame, the team constructed a corner sample and layout to verify that the proportions were correct.

The base of the frame is built, and the team is attaching the pressed and molded composition ornaments.

The base of the frame is built, and the team is attaching the pressed and molded composition ornaments.

The yellow and red coloration is a bole mixture, which consists of clay and rabbit skin glue that is the base for water gilding. Water gilding is the process of applying gold leaf to the frame.

The yellow and red coloration is a bole mixture, which consists of clay and rabbit skin glue that is the base for water gilding. Water gilding is the process of applying gold leaf to the frame.

The team gilded carved out areas of the frame before putting the ornaments on to make the process easier when trying to reach overhanging areas.

The team gilded carved out areas of the frame before putting the ornaments on to make the process easier when trying to reach overhanging areas.

The color of the bole mixture will affect the final color of gold when it is burnished. The red bole is used as highlights whereas the yellow bole is used as more of an undertone.

The color of the bole mixture will affect the final color of gold when it is burnished. The red bole is used as highlights whereas the yellow bole is used as more of an undertone.

Burnishing aligns the crystalline structure of the gold to change it from a matte finish to a more glossy and polished look. For this frame, the team burnished a lot of areas to make the ornaments pop and draw attention to those parts of the frame.

Burnishing aligns the crystalline structure of the gold to change it from a matte finish to a more glossy and polished look. For this frame, the team burnished a lot of areas to make the ornaments pop and draw attention to those parts of the frame.

Frame After

The final product hanging on the wall with St. Michael the Archangel in Shaping America, our current exhibition of American art from the MOA’s permanent collection.

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