Saturday, December 26, 2009

Art & the Modern Preschooler

a word on policy by an alumnus of this particular preschool
this hangs in the school's lobby

Ok, this post may be a tad self-involved, but I have a post scheduled in the very near future which highlights an event at, shall we say, a preschool at which my child does not attend. This is something of a pre-emptive strike at equal time.

There are many fine preschools in the City of Philadelphia and beyond. Many of them are arts-based. I love the one my child attends.

Some parents hang kids art on the fridge. Others do this sort of thing.

The above art, by a wonderful young artist and fellow student at my child's preschool, was floated and then has a raised top mat which was fitted into Ikea RMs (ready-mades). Economical and chic!

And this art, by my own dear 3-year-old, was floated and put into an RM metal shadowbox.

And this may be a little overthetop for normal people. But it is an original portrait, and a surprising likeness. And also a holiday gift for a framer's husband. : )

Check out the Bolshoi RM. (!!!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exotic Jewels

A client recently asked me, "What types of items do you most like to frame?"

My answer: "Items I don't have to glue."

I will avoid using adhesives if possible, though there are about a zillion situations where it is required. In all of those situations, I use the most archival and least damaging adhesive available to me.

All of the following items are mounted using adhesive-free techniques. And they all happen to be fabulous jewelry.

These are pieces of jewelry from Jordan, possibly antique.

Another client brought in this is a set of bracelet weapons from Kenya.

And the same client brought in the above necklace set, also from Kenya, a gift from a Maasi with whom she studied.

And coincidently, a third client brought in this Maasi necklace a scant few days later.

I poked very small holes in key places through the mats, and then used a very fine jewelry wire to mount the items. Almost completely invisible and the item can be easily removed from framing package if ever necessary.

And FYI, my least favorite items to frame are dried flowers and taxidermy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Helping Hand(s)?

One of our regulars brought in the above canvas, unframed. The client is a retired curator of one of the city's (and the World's) finest museums. In his spare time he likes to restore paintings. This one was purchased directly from the artist, Cesare Ricciardi 1892-1973, many years ago from his Pine Street studio.

The artist told our client that Philadelphia's most prominent artist, Thomas Eakins 1844-1916 (also the artist's friend and mentor), painted the hands on this particular canvas.

It is nearly impossible to prove as no photographic evidence exists of Eakins' hand touching this canvas, but if one accepts the word of my client (and I absolutely do) and the word of the artist, then this portrait is quite the jewel in my client's collection.

After studying this painting at length, I came to accept that the hands are stylistically different than the rest of this work.

But then I had an issue with the dates: Ricciardi was born in 1892, and Eakins died in 1916. Ricciardi would have been only 18-years-old in 1910, allowing for only a six year window when the two would have been artist-contemporaries.

I decided to take a field trip to view the largest collection of Eakins' portraits. (I did not have to go very far.)

There I learned that Eakins began his career in portraits later in his life, beginning in 1886. (I have subsequently learned that Ricciardi's portrait career was very early in his.) Of the Eakins collection, I found these most similar to the Ricciardi portrait that turned up in the shop.

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Mrs. Frank Hamilton Cushing, 1895

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Lucy Lewis, 1896

Note that these are framed by the Museum very simply in a flat wide natural wood. Very unusual. Whereas Eakins' landscapes are framed in ornate gilded frames. I read that Eakins was not a terrifically profitable portrait artist because he did not idealize his subjects, and the end result was very natural, perhaps even unflattering (these two ladies I've selected for you notwithstanding). Perhaps the museum's framemaker chose to illuminate that aspect of the work with this style of frame.

Our Ricciardi, however, was framed in our shop using a gorgeous distressed Isabella, with just a hint of hand painted gilt detail peeking through. This beautiful frame has inspired our client to continue his work to restore his fascinating treasure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things

Although I've been framing for over a decade, my work never fails to keep me interested. Sure it's great to get the big movie or corporate document jobs, but the most fascinating jobs are brought in by regular folks who want to preserve their most treasured posessions.

Above is a portrait brought in by a smart local businesswoman who really likes pugs. The framing here is just as amusing as the portrait, if I do say so myself.

Above here is a tiny acrylic original purchased on a client's recent trip to Prague. I love a chunky frame on tiny art, and thrilled this daring customer allowed me to design that way.

And this, a hand rendering brought back from the front lines of WWII, folded and tucked into the pocket of a brave leader. One from his troop pencilled and painted the portrait of him, and presented it to him. Now, over 60 years later his children have brought it to me to preserve for generations to come.

And finally, this is a sonogram. Not an ultrasound, but a revolutionary visual representation of sound waves done in the 1940s. My client, a historian, explained that she had studied under a woman who created and developed this method of charting sound waves. The woman died and left all of the sonograms to my client. As this is a lost method and impossible to recreate, my client gifted all the sonograms to the Smithsonian. Except one.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bring It

Once again: from the top. A Set Decorator for a big movie needs bunch of frames in an impossibly short period of time.

This script writes itself. As it turns out, it's an industry cliche. We didn't even bother with extraneous dialogue.

Movie lady: "Can you do it?"
Me: "Yep."

Short & sweet. Cut & dry. Standard sizes, non-glare glass. 24 hours.

I endure my usual protagonist's struggles: problems with supplies, late delivery of materials to the shop, and sudden change of pick-up time to an hour earlier.

This shot was snapped as I was running by with 2 frames under one arm and my camera in my free hand as I helped the Set Decorator load her van. For real.

But I did pull it off once more (and on time)!
Framer raises arms in triumph. Music swells.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Quis faci?

A Classical-Modern Framing Conundrum

FACT: the Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the greatest museums in the world. Its period rooms and incredible special exhibits always command international attention, but its modern collection, in my opinion, is unparalleled. I felt this way even during all the years I lived nearer to NYC, and was a member of the Met (whose 20th – 21st Century collection still remains inexplicably lackluster). It has been my pleasure to be a member of "The Art Museum" since the minute I moved to Philly.

Some stand-outs: (Left) Sol LeWitt, On A Blue Ceiling, Eight Geometric Figures: Circle, Trapezoid, Parallelogram, Rectangle, Square, Triangle, Right Triangle, X. And (Right) Marcel Duchamp, Etant Donnes (see the retrospective exhibit NOW!)

Occasionally, the Museum hosts tours of its frames (yay!), and I attend with bells on. A few years ago, during a tour of contemporary frames, my small group stood in the Cy Twombly gallery. The guide pointed out something that should have been obvious to me: most of the canvases in the room were too large to fit through the door. She offered no concrete explanation, but left it to us to silently ponder.

I have thought about it some: the canvases were certainly stretched in the room. I do not accept that the door was finished after canvases were in.

Canvas stretching is one of the services we offer at the shop. Usually, a client will come in with a rolled canvas and want it stretched on wooden stretcher bars and then framed. A traditional look will include a linen liner, and a more contemporary look will put the frame directly on the canvas. An ultramodern look might involve a floating frame OR a gallery-wrapped canvas.

A gallery wrap means the canvas is stretched and stapled to the back of the stretcher bars, rather than stapled to the sides, which is typical when the piece is going into a regular frame. When the canvas is stapled to the back of the bars, and the image extends onto the sides of the bars, then there is a clean, finished edge and suitable for display sans frame.

Here's a proper gallery wrap done at the shop.

Then back to these Twomblys: to my horror I discover they have EXPOSED side staples! (?!?) Furthermore, they’re not even stretched neatly—the staples are not evenly spaced or angled the same way. Huh? What framer would do this and defy their sworn oath? Quis Faci?!

My theory: Perhaps this was in the artist’s instructions….to have the stretch be as visceral (a crazy scribbly mess) as the art. However you feel about Twombly’s work, he may actually be quite thoughtful and consistent.

PS. I am fond of Twombly’s work, particularly this gallery in the museum. However his stuff really annoys most everyone I love and admire.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Big Picture

Oh, the movie is coming out soon! I caught a glimpse of some of my framing in the first couple of seconds of this trailer. (I think I framed over 20 pieces all told for this flick, if you'll recall.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shout Out

The new issue of Philadelphia Home Magazine, a quarterly supplement to Philadelphia Magazine, includes a great article with designer Kevin Derrick, who is a local authority on the proper display of art. Knows his stuff. Singled us out (ok we're one of 2) as his favorite framer.

Thanks, yo.

PDF of the article can be found here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Momma's Frugal Framer Loves Shortnin' Shortnin'...

a guestblog by Frugal Frames Owner, Mark Muhlig

hazelnut shortbread

Our customers are real people…not just walking wallets ripe for the picking. Yes we make a profit on what we do, but we pride ourselves on not mugging them. It’s an industry image that we have had to struggle with ever since we opened in 1996. You know the scenario…walk in with a decent poster; get quoted well over 400 bucks for a simple frame job. Bingo…lost profits and a disillusioned consumer who probably won’t step into another frame shop for a decade. Because of this gouging behavior, thousands of potential customers have been thrown away and I have never even met them, let alone quoted them a price.

But alas, this post is not about money. No, quite the opposite.

It’s about cookies.

Delicious home-cooked-from-scratch cookies, brownies, lemon bars…anything that comes from the heart, requires a little effort, and tastes like a slice of heaven.

We love our customers (most of them anyway). We will go the extra mile for them whenever possible to show them that we value their business. The problem is, we don’t have a chart that quantifies that little something extra. Sure we could put a timer on it and ask for cold hard cash. But we are not Taxi Drivers.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. A Lady customer of ours realized that in a short three days her Wedding Anniversary was coming due. She had nothing but an old Blue Print of a Ship that her Husband had under the bed, hoping one day to frame it. She grabbed it and rushed it to us wondering if it was possible to get the job done.

Mind you, this was not some quickie dry mount with a cheap metal frame job. She wanted double matting, a fine wood frame, a good mount and quality glass. My wife was taking the order as I listened from the production room. It all sounded reasonable to me, but since I was going out of my way, I wanted something for my efforts.

I leaned out of the small room and asked, “Do you bake?”

She glanced at my wife, puzzled, and then back to me, “Uh, you mean like cookies or brownies?”

“Yes,” I responded, “I am a terrible baker and my kids love to eat ‘em. If I’m going to make you very happy in three days, could you bless me with some of your baked goods?”

She lit up with a big smile, “Absolutely, no problem, consider it done.”

In three short days, she had her husband’s present and my wife and kids had a tin full of home cooked brownies (with and without walnuts).

Now this sort of transaction pleases me in so many ways.

A] My kids have brownies
B] I’m a great cook but a terrible baker
C] The customer and I have entered into a relationship that doesn’t involve money.
D] It’s awful neighbourly.
E] It reminds me of times long past.

This brings us to our latest confectionary treat: Elaine is involved in several local groups (mostly involving mommies and/or crafts) where the subject quite often turns to art and subsequently framing. Now this is Center City Philadelphia, with a ton of fine restaurants, chefs and bakers. A few of which happen to be in these same circles. Elaine came to me with a request. Can she offer a bit of a discount to her friends in these groups?

This put my inner Ferengi into a little conflict. I thought about it for a moment…and asked,

“Do they bake?”

Valhrona chocolate

Monday, August 17, 2009


Sometimes I really do split the atom.

A client interested in conservation turned up at my door to discuss framing some Swedish stamps. He requested that they be handled only with gloves (hand oils), that they be mounted without any adhesive whatsoever, and that the stamps be floating in the framing design.

To float an item in framing terminology means to display every square micrometer of the item. Most often, items are matted, which means that an opening is cut in a mat to reveal the image. The opening is generally cut 1/8" - 1/4" smaller than the item to slightly cover the edges. This holds the item down and gives a sharp edge. Normally, items with unusual or interesting edges are floated so those characteristics can be viewed. The deckled edge of a stamp is a great example. Adhesives must be used in a float design. How else would the item stay up?

And then I remembered that my old buddy Chas had taken a class in encapsulation. A new mounting technique that is adhesive-free. Even in a float situation.

First a layer of thin duralar (a clear acetate-like product that is archival) is adhered to the mat using a thin strip of ATG at the top. Here the top mat has already been museum-hinged with linen tape.

Then the stamps are positioned on top of the duralar. More ATG is applied around the stamps and a second sheet of duralar is applied on top. The stamps are between the two sheets and they are kept in place by static electricity!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Closet Goths

are among us!

It started when dear friends/neighbors arrived at the shop with GORGEOUS oversize archival print photos.

Here are The Professors atop Notre Dame.

and here a Vision of Joan of Arc!

Note the dark, ornate, Victorian frames selected. Perfect!

And then one of my favorite customers showed up with this freak show a few days later ...

Naked Angel with Satyrs

Weird Mannequin at Dinner Party for One

Detail with crazy-shape mat-opening, cut by moi!

These clients looked like nice, normal people. Who knew they had such dark, creepy sides lurking within? And what would possess them to think I could appreciate that aesthetic?


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Whether you're playing cards or working in a retail frame shop, always pay attention to coincidences.

The topic of this blog came to me tonight as I was speaking with an old framing buddy. He was explaining that he had recently come through a period where he made a lot of double-sided frames for a variety of clients in a short period of time. Double-sided frames are hardly the norm...a regular shop maybe does one or two in a year, but things do tend to come in waves sometimes.

For instance, earlier this week, a client walked in off the street. She wanted to discuss a project she needed in a rush. She works in a very prestigious archive and needed to present 2 framed copies of a historical document to visiting foreign dignitaries. The document? Oh yeah, it was written and signed by George Washington.

I asked, "Do you know I framed an original George Washington letter last month?"

After all, I did blog about it AND put in on my Facebook ; )

She claimed she was unaware.

"I can authenticate that signature for you," I said jokingly to the prestigious archivist.

Evidently my historical document humor needs work.

Anyhoo, I don't recall ever framing George Washington stuff before, and here I was being honored by framing 2 unrelated important docs in a month. Hunh.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dog Girl

in Glorious Living Color

A Guestblog by Frugal Frames Owner, Mark Muhlig

This is a piece from my own personal collection of Comic Art. Charles Burns has been creating extremely wacky characters for years. I can remember when I first read “DogBoy” In the large format RAW comic series.

This here is Dog Girl.

Dog Girl is pictured naked in the moonlit forest night, partaking in her treasured favorite meal…a bologna sandwich on white bread. She seems deep in thought…in the zone. I wouldn’t want to disturb her.

Generally, when people see a black and white image, they tend to think” I know, I’ll keep it simple with a white mat and a black frame…I wouldn’t want to take the attention away from the piece.” In my mind, and our store, nothing could be further from the truth. Surrounding the art isn’t framing the art.

Dog Girl required peaceful natural framing to extend the foliage around her. A nest if you will. A safe place to eat and contemplate. The art and the frame must become one unified piece.

We started with the matting. I once considered this the UGLIEST mat I had ever seen. It’s called Tamarack by Bainbridge. It kind of looks like Jackson Pollack ate way too much broccoli and then tossed it up onto a matboard. Regardless, I knew it would be perfect.

The frame took a little bit more time to get right. My wife and I went back and forth on a few different frames, finally settling on a roughly finished, brownish-green, deeply setback cube. ( an Arcadia product…very inexpensive.)

For the finishing touch, we inserted a Larson Juhl Acropolis fillet to give separation between the mat and frame. The final combination giving a feeling of bark, branches and impressionist foliage.
I consider this my best attempt so far at ‘Anti-Black and White’ framing. I think Dog Girl would agree.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Family & Community

I love framing vintage family photos, and anyone who has ever framed with me in the past knows my design style on these types of images. If I have my druthers and the client is agreeable, vintage family photos would be framed with ALL of the following components:

  • A gilded wood frame (gold, silver, pewter, copper) with architectural elements or carving detail.

  • A suede mat--the texture is similar to crushed velvet and makes me think of the luxurious lining of a jewelry box

  • A fillet (thin strip of moulding inside the mat)

  • museum glass

I recently had a wonderfully agreeable client ;)

After these framing packages were designed with the client, an order for materials was placed with our distributor. I was informed that top mat of the uppermost design was discontinued and there was no more to be had at the manufacturers! The client and I spent a lot of time choosing that color, and felt it important not just to the design of this piece, but to coordinate with other framed treasures in her home's entry.

What to do? I went to the framing community for help. Did you know there is an online social network just for framers? Yep. It's called The Grumble and it's pretty much like Framing Myspace. (There's a similar thing for knitters, too--you can find me at either place, user name: supereight.) I asked if anyone out there had a piece of that color left in the small size I needed, and lo, Lori from Gallery of Framing in OH responded to my query and shipped the same day.
The framing world is very small and remarkably supportive. I did not know Lori, she didn't owe me any favors, but she helped me out and in short order. In the past I have even asked for help from a shop competing in my own market and received it. I really am very proud to be a part of this industry.