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Published: Thursday, 10/13/2005

The Artful Collection

Once a framed work of art is on the wall, we tend not to worry about it. Sculpture can be knocked over, furniture broken, rugs stained but what can happen to a framed piece?

A lot, as it turns out. Direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures and humidity are extremely damaging to framed art. Serious and expensive problems can be caused by improper framing or careless handling. But, with just a little forethought, it s not difficult to maintain paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs in great condition.

The first step is to check the framing itself. Make sure older frames are still stable and that wire or hardware isn t touching the artwork. Most paintings on canvas aren t glazed; if they are, the glass should never touch the canvas. Photographs and other works on paper are very susceptible to acidic papers and glues, so insist on archival quality mounts and mats. To prevent fading, it s worth the small additional cost for glass or Plexiglas with ultraviolet protection. Plexiglas is usually the best choice for larger works, since it s lighter and less fragile than glass. But always frame pastels and charcoal drawings under glass Plexiglas s slight static charge could damage them.

Second, it s crucial to handle framed art with care. Resist the temptation to rearrange your walls just before guests arrive. The vast majority of paintings that require conservation have been torn, sculled or cracked by someone in a hurry. Take a breath and clear a path for yourself. Use one hand to support the bottom and the other to hold one side, and carry the piece with the image facing your body. Make an exception for pastels, which should be carried flat with the image facing up. With unframed canvases, be careful not to let your fingers slip between the canvas and the stretcher.

As you hang each piece, cast a critical eye on the environment. Direct sunlight causes artwork to fade at an alarming rate. Extremes of temperature or humidity can be disastrous, and wild fluctuations are even worse. Maintaining a stable, moderate environment is basic insurance against cracking paint, mold or insect infestations, image loss especially photographs and more.

It s a good idea to examine your collection on a regular basis. When you re familiar with each piece, you re more likely to notice changes in their condition. Gently dusting oil or acrylic paintings with a clean, soft brush creates a good opportunity to check their surfaces. Use a lint-free cloth to clean glass or Plexiglas, and be sure to spray cleaning solution on the cloth, not the glazing.

When not on display, framed artwork should be stored in a cool, dry area. Stand pieces on end, separated by sheets of acid-free board never cardboard. Remember to check the storage area periodically to be sure the environment remains stable.

Give them some tender loving care, and your framed artworks will inspire you for the rest of your days.

Reprinted with permission from THE GUILD. If you would like to learn more ways to create your Artful Home, visit www.guild.com

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