We were recently honored to custom frame 74 original drawings for a museum show titled “Happy Birthday George” at the Phippen Museum.
We were honored recently to be involved in the framing of George Phippen’s original sketches, color studies and transfers for his finished paintings. The show is absolutely amazing – if you haven’t seen it yet make sure you get out to Prescott’s own Phippen Museum and see it in person.
What goes into framing so many fragile drawings and watercolor paintings?
Working study drawings (called “Thumbnails” in the art world) are often fragile because they aren’t treated like finished works of art by the artist themselves. They are a tool used to make the finished painting, and so are often crumpled up, torn, covered in notes, folded in half, full of holes where the artist used great pressure with their pen or pencil, and basically just in rough shape. This meant very careful handling and storage of the artwork, so to not cause any further damage.
We began by taking a photographic inventory with the supervision and help of Darrell Phippen, one of George Phippen’s sons. Each photograph was used to document the item condition as well as that we had them in our possession. Once photographed, each drawing was interleaved with tissue paper to keep it from getting smudged by the other drawings or incidental contact. While the drawings were out of their folders, we chose a soft medium grey mat with black core to offset the graphite drawings and the yellowed paper. We determined that using a 3″ wide mat on all the works would also provide a constant element of design. Simple black frames in two widths were chosen to frame the drawings, which really helped to unify them visually. The wider frame at 2″ wide went on any drawing larger than 24×30, and the narrower 1″ frame was used on the smaller works to maintain a pleasing proportion.
The next part of the process was measuring and re-measuring the artwork before storing them. In a small town like Prescott, materials do not arrive the next day… we usually have to wait 3-5 days to get any supplies we use. To make matters more interesting, Arizona itself doesn’t have a lot of picture framing suppliers in general, so finding enough matboard in the same color to frame 74 pieces was a challenge! We did it though, and the uncut mats started arriving within a few days of our order. We put in a few extra days to cut all of the mats ahead of time and double check all frame sizes before beginning to cut the frames themselves.
Our client wanted to use the best of all possible glazing, which was TrueVue’s Optium acrylic. This acrylic is notable for several reasons: It’s optically coated to reduce reflections drastically, it’s UV filtering, it’s static free, scratch resistant, shatterproof, and light weight. It is also extremely costly. This was another item that we knew there wasn’t a lot of in the entire state… and sure enough when we ordered it we bought everything our suppliers had. There was literally none of it left in the whole state after we ordered our Optium, but we had enough sheets of it to get the job done. Or so we thought… more later.
So now all of our mats were cut, the art mounted safely in them and stored carefully. All measurements double checked and confirmed… an entire day was dedicated to cutting and building the frames. We put a lot of miles on the saw and the dust collectors that day! The frame building went along fairly uneventfully. Each item had its own special number so we made sure to put that number on the back of the corresponding frame, so when the time came to assemble them we would know right away which artwork went with which frame. They were all different sizes so this really helped speed up assembly.
All well and good – we had about four days left to complete the project by deadline, and everything was going according to plan. It’s time to cut the Optium glazing up and start fitting the frames together. Francine unwrapped the first 96″ x 48″ sheet to find that it was shattered halfway through the sheet (!!!). Oh no! We realized then that we would have to cut the rest of the order exactly perfectly or we wouldn’t have enough Optium. Thankfully our vendor credited us for the cost of the damaged Optium, which was great customer service on their part.
Ida decided that at this point relying on her own brain power was probably not the best idea, so she downloaded a program called CutList Plus that really helped with figuring out exactly how many pieces she could get out of each sheet of Optium. If you’re a builder or manufacturer this kind of program is a lifesaver for sure. After running all of the project’s numbers through CutList, we determined that we could get all of our glazing out of the sheets we had already bought, in spite of the shattered parts. Which was a really good thing, considering we had bought all of the Optium in the state of Arizona.
Francine bravely dived in to cutting the Optium, while Ida and Russell began assembling and finishing the framing as she finished cutting each piece. With one day to spare, the project was complete.
The Member’s preview was an exciting moment for us as framers, because we got to see our finished museum framing in a distinguished exhibition. It was also really cool to see George Phippen’s thumbnail drawings next to their painted counterparts. What a fantastic day for art, the Frame & I, the Phippen family, the Phippen Museum and the world of illustration too!