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Step by Step Process: Adapting an Existing Frame for Archival Re-use

By Virginia Whelan, Textile Conservator in Private Practice. Sole Proprietor of Filaments Conservation Studio, Merion PA.

A frame is both ornamental and functional, drawing the viewer’s attention to the artwork and offering protection from handling and ambient elements. With a few adjustments, most any older wooden frame—whether it is historic, original to the artwork, or otherwise—can be adapted for re-use to become archival as well as ornamental and functional.


In this case study, the client wanted their nearly 200-year-old textile, a copperplate printed on plain weave cloth, to remain with its existing frame and glass even though they were not original to each other. The carved, gilded, wooden profile had a lovely patina from age and use, and the old glass had character.


To adapt the existing frame for archival re-use, the rabbet was made deeper and a piece of Optium Museum Acrylic®  was added behind the glass. The Optium Museum Acrylic  protects the textile from harmful UV-light and physical damage should the glass break, and its anti-reflective quality makes it invisible in the package.  The step by step process is documented below.


 1.  Conservation of the textile:


Before treatment. The textile had been adhered to an acidic cardboard backing using a non-archival adhesive. The visible yellowing around the perimeter of the textile is evidence of the degraded adhesive.


After treatment. The textile, after its careful removal from its non-archival mount, was stitched to a padded mount support made from acid-free boards covered with needle-punched polyester batting and a cotton show fabric.


2. Retro-fitting the frame:


The original frame.


The original frame was not deep enough to adequately accommodate the textile’s new padded mount, the spacers, the glass, and the Optium Museum Acrylic.


The back of the existing frame is built out using poplar secured with screws.


The total depth needed for the adapted rabbet is calculated by the adding up the dimensions of the individual elements: 3/16” mounted textile, 1/8” spacer, 3mm Optium Museum Acrylic, 1/16” spacer, 1/8” existing glazing.


The beveled edge and its neutral color of the build out minimize its visual dimension when hanging and viewed from the side.


3. Sequence of assembly:


The rabbet is lined with frame-sealing tape made with a foil layer and non-yellowing, pressure-sensitive adhesive. The tape acts as a barrier to prevent the inherent acids found in wood from migrating into the textile.


The spacer between the Optium Museum Acrylic and the original glazing is prepared by cutting 1/4”-wide strips of 2-ply, black, acid-free board and applying 3M #415 double-sided tape.


The original glass is placed in the prepared frame. The 2-ply spacers are aligned on the glass with the double-sided tape facing down. The small gap provided by the spacers prevents contact between the glass and the Optium Museum Acrylic, which can result in a moiré pattern, also known as Newton’s rings.


The 3mm Optium Museum Acrylic is positioned in the frame.


The film protecting the new glazing is removed while it rests in the frame.


Black 1/8” acrylic spacers are positioned on the Optium Museum Acrylic.


The edges of the textile’s mount rest on the spacers.


4. Documentation of work:


Identifying the use of archival materials is important. The handwritten label on the back of the textile’s mount and the Optium Museum Acrylic label adhered to the dust cover inform future owners of when and how the textile was framed, and what materials were used.


The label says: “This textile was mounted and framed according to conservation standards using archival materials (acid-free boards, needle-punched polyester batting, cotton cover, Optium Museum Acrylic) while retaining the existing frame and glass.”


The Optium Museum Acrylic label adhered to the dust cover.


“Sacred to Patriotism” portrait of George Washington, 1819. Copperplate printed on plain weave cotton in Glasgow, Scotland. 19 inches x 25.5 inches (48.26 cm x 64.77 cm). Marked “Printed and published at Glasgow by C.G. 1819”, Private owner.


The finished product!  The textile is now mounted properly, protected from UV-light, and displayed in its existing, and now archival, frame and glass.

This article is intended for educational purposes only and does not replace independent professional judgment. Statements of fact and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) individually and, unless expressly stated to the contrary, are not the opinion or position of Tru Vue or its employees. Tru Vue does not endorse or approve, and assumes no responsibility for, the content, accuracy or completeness of the information presented.

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