Preservation Framing (also known as Conservation Framing)
Webster defines preserve as: “To keep safe from injury, harm, or destruction.” Thus, the responsibility of the artwork owner and
the picture framer is to house the art in such a way that is will be maintained in its present unaltered condition. The paramount
guideline is that the work done to house the art must be totally reversible, allowing the art to return to its original condition as if it
had never been framed. Preservation practices in framing should not be confused with the work of conservators. That involves
treatment to improve condition in damaged art. It should also not be confused with presentation which is about visual
preferences. Preservation is about technical choices and methods. Mistakes in presentation can be changed at any time. But
mistakes in preservation usually have permanent consequences.
Standards for preserving art and keepsakes have been developed by FACTS – Fine Art Care and Treatment Standards,
Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) Guild and Standards Committee, the Library of Congress and others. As
previously stated, preservation standards are constantly changing, especially as new technologies for creating artwork are
Here are some definitions to help you become familiar with framing and preservation terms:
Acid-free: One difference between archival and nonarchival framing materials can be expressed in terms of their pH, which is the
measurement of hydrogen ions they contain. To understand the term, remember from chemistry class the pH scale runs from
zero to 14, with a pH of seven representing a neutral (neither acidic nor alkaline) solution. Values below seven represent
increasing acidity; those above seven signal increasing alkalinity. Nonarchival framing materials containing unpurified wood pulp
fibers tend to have pH values of less than seven, and those made of pure cotton rag have values higher than seven. Library of
Congress standards today call for a pH between 8.5 to 9.5 to meet archival specifications. (Caution – absence of acidity alone is
not enough – see lignin). It is safe to say that all conservation boards are acid-free. But, not all acid-free boards are necessarily
Acidity: High acidity in paper products used in framing is damaging to artwork causing discoloration (acid burn). Studies have
also shown that paper degrades more rapidly in an acidic environment.
Alpha Cellulose: This is material usually made from wood pulp that has been purified by removing lignin, acid and other
potentially damaging substances. F.A.C.T.S. guidelines state that purified alpha cellulose wood fiber can be used
interchangeably with cotton rag in archival framing.
Archival: Having to do with a place in which historical documents are preserved (archive). It is considered synonymous with
Backing Board: Rigid backing to prevent the art and mat from buckling or to protect works on canvas from damage from the back.
Acid-free foam board or rag covered foam board is typically used.
Buffered: An alkaline reserve is added to the framing material during manufacture to help maintain alkalinity. The buffer removes
acid from boards, but the materials won’t remain non-acidic forever. After a period of time, they may turn acidic and begin to attack
the artwork. An added buffer helps to delay the return to acidity.
Conservator: A conservator specializes in the restoration or repair of damaged artwork. Framers are not as a general rule
conservators. Nor are conservators necessarily framers. We have repaired the framing work of conservators that did not
measure up to standards of preservation and new damage was occurring.
Glazing: Glass or acrylic used to cover and protect the front of the art. “Light is the source of all our visual pleasure in art.
Ironically it is also the environmental factor which is most threatening to the preservation of many works of art.” (Protecting Works
of Art From Damage by Light by Judith Walsh) Light damage includes discoloration, fading and brittleness. This damage is
serious and irreversible. No conservation treatment can restore color or strength to light-damaged materials. Therefore, in
preservation considerations, only UV filtered glass or acrylic will do.
Hinge: A hinge is used to hold the artwork in place. It can be a paper, cloth or mylar product. To meet preservation standards,
hinges must allow the artwork to be removed without damaging the art. The highest quality hinge is a Japanese hinge termed
because it is crafted out of Japanese papers. The hinge is attached to the artwork with wheat or rice starch paste. It is a difficult
hinge to accomplish and is correctly done only with experience. Properly prepared hinges should be prepared from a lighter
weight paper than the artwork. The theory is, if the framing package is dropped, hinges will tear first – not the art. Mylar strips or
corners are another good choice for preservation framing. The strips are placed on all four sides of the art. The strips attach to a
backing board and never to the art itself. So the art can simply be lifted out of the hinge. This method is appropriate for work on
heavier paper. Masking tape, scotch tape, duct tape are about the worst things that can be used for hinging, but we see them all
the time when re-framing or repairing pieces.
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