- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Every time the Swift family of Annapolis takes a vacation, they come back with a photograph or print to remind them of their travels.

Patriarch Michael Swift says the art pieces are cherished parts of his family’s heirlooms. So cherished, he says, that his now-grown children playfully fight over who will get which print when the elder Swifts die.

It only makes sense to frame those memories for posterity.

Framing artwork can turn a college dorm print into, if not a piece of art, at least something worthy of a place on the wall. But it isn’t cheap.

Often the framing process can outstrip the cost of the artwork itself, but a good frame and sensibly chosen mats can add luster to an otherwise drab piece of work. They also can make a grand print or photograph sublime.

Art lovers can opt to frame their own work, selecting previously assembled materials and cutting their own mats. It’s not easy, especially for those without an artistic background.

Some people turn to Cissy Webb’s Frame of Mine shop on Capitol Hill, which helps the inexperienced choose and create their own artistic frames.

Ms. Webb, the store owner, says customers can consider up to 700 corner samples and 300 mat colors and textures. Then, the store’s employees will cut the frame and mat and join the wooden frame pieces for the customer. The patron can help select the styles, clean the glass and mount the art.

Technical skills aside, Ms. Webb says, “The expertise part comes with guiding the customer with what’s best for their artwork … where it’ll hang, what color wall it’s on. You don’t want a big, gaudy, ornate frame in a mission-style house.”

Customers overwhelmingly demand wood frames. Metal frames make up about 10 percent to 15 percent of the requests, though the need for sturdy metal jumps when larger prints are considered. A thin metal frame can support more weight than a wooden model, so if the homeowner wants a thin frame on a large piece of art, metal is the better option.

Mr. Swift, manager of Annapolis’ Griffin’s restaurant, says his framed vacation photos are all signed by his children, with their ages printed nearby to freeze a moment in time. Each framed work includes a second window in the mat to accommodate the signatures.

One framed piece is a photograph of a South Carolina church near a graveyard. Another snapshot captures the moment Mr. Swift’s daughter met a Parisian bishop during an overseas trek.

Each picture is given its own individualized frame to reflect the tone and colors in the artwork. Mr. Swift chooses the same wood style when having his collection of duck prints framed, however — they’re all surrounded by a deep walnut wood.

Mr. Swift relies on the McBride Gallery in Annapolis for his framing work.

“The art should be the star,” he says of the pieces.

Gallery owner Cynthia McBride says framing preferences change, much like fashion or other arts given to aesthetic whims.

Frames often are inextricably linked to the styles of today’s homes, says Mrs. McBride, who also owns Benfield Frame Art Gallery in Severna Park, Md.

She says today’s larger homes with higher ceilings all but demand wider mats with bigger frames.

The proper frame can make a painting complete, but it also can help a painting stay in the family for decades, Mrs. McBride says. Young couples often come in to frame a piece of art, with both the frame and the print dependent on their limited income.

Down the road, the couple can choose to reframe the piece to match their new sense of style, surroundings or income level.

“Ten years later, that limited-edition print will work its way into a guest room or rec room,” she says.

Customers also want their frames to include UV-protecting glass, which screens out damaging rays from sunlight and the fluorescent bulbs that can fade artwork.

Mrs. McBride says the gallery also is seeing a move away from non-glare glass. That glass, coated on both sides, can yield a slightly distorted image.

“People are moving toward glass that has anti-reflecting protective” qualities but doesn’t affect the viewing like the non-glare glass can, she says.

Another frame trend moves away from actual barn wood toward materials that mimic its distressed look.

Customers range from hands-on to completely hands-off in their approach to framing. In either case, Mrs. McBride’s staff asks plenty of questions to get just the right frame. It’s crucial to know what kind of room will hold the print or photograph. Is it a formal or more relaxed environment?

“Wood frames are still by far the most popular,” she says. They range from a half-inch diploma-style frame to one with 24-karat-gold leaf.

Metal frames, once considered rather staid, now offer different shapes and texture possibilities.

Laura Surak, a picture framer with Maria’s Picture Place in Annapolis, says no hard-and-fast rules apply when framing artwork.

“I do talk with the person to get a feel for their style and what their house looks like,” Mrs. Surak says.

Some general methods help make the artwork in question remain front and center.

“I try to choose neutral colors for the inner mat,” she says, like a white or off-white or even something that reflects a middle tone in the piece.

Art lovers can make their own frames, but Mrs. Surak says people often make some basic mistakes in the process.

“They don’t clean very well underneath the glass,” she says. “We make sure there’s no dust fuzzies under the glass.”

Another mistake is to cut their own mats using bevel-making mat cutters found at most art shops. The results, without the right training, can be imperfect.

Do-it-yourself types also should know where to put the screw eyes in the back of a picture for proper hanging. The correct spot, Mrs. Surak says, is a third of the way down a piece.

She understands that framing is expensive, and many artists prefer a do-it-yourself approach for practical reasons.

“It’s hard for them to recoup the cost of custom framing,” Mrs. Surak says.

Quoting framing prices can be extremely inexact, given the wide range in sizes, materials and quality. Mrs. Surak estimates an 8-by-10-inch wood frame, along with a double mat, could cost between $50 and $500.

“People always want to do it themselves to save money, but they don’t realize how much work is involved,” she says.

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