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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Fashions in frames


Your frame can’t be all things to everyone, but it’s helpful to know where it stands in the currents of fickle fashion.
Me, with the usual assortment of plein air event frames.
I keep an inventory of frames in my garage in the common sizes in which I paint en plein air, ranging from 6X8 up to 18X24. This takes up considerable space and represents an even more considerable investment. Inevitably, despite careful management, there are some losses—damaged frames, sizes I no longer work in, or—the worst—frames that have gone out of style.

Some go back twenty years. These are black and gold with corner medallions and carving, and I only use them in a pinch. Still, I keep them. The moment I get rid of them, they’ll be back in style.

Picture frames aren’t usually considered a fashion item, but like everything else in the home, they are tied to décor trends. There were elaborate Baroque frames, simple mid-century frames, and modern, minimalist frames—and many subtle shifts within each of these periods.
Apple blossom swing, by Carol L. Douglas. Courtesy Camden Falls Gallery. This is a favorite frame style, but it must be built in two sections.
The current plein air frame is usually a gold, silver or dark wood slab frame with minimal ornamentation. It's widely available and easy to use. But does it actually reflect modern tastes in decorating? Well, yes and no. Look through Elle Décor’s pages at the frames and artwork. While metal finishes are making something of a comeback, farmhouse chic (which means barnwood) is still pretty popular. There are more ‘frameless’ and all-white frames than there are metallics.

The question isn’t what we like, but what our buyers want. My age cohort still loves gold frames, but we're a shrinking market. Millennials say they want minimalism, low-maintenance and modern, with wood and stone surfaces. Mid-century modern and rustic may be fading overall, but they remain strong influences in this group.

Breaking dawn, by Carol L. Douglas. This is a frame syle popular in the Canadian Maritimes.
There are regional differences. My Canadian friend Poppy Balser and I navigate the shoals of cross-border framing every year. Nova Scotians prefer a simpler style with a plain white liner and thin fillet. To our American eyes it looks cheap (it’s not). Our heavy gold plein air frames look tacky to them. I’ve come to love the Canadian frame, but it’s hard to get here.

There are limits to how trendy one can be at plein air events. Oil and acrylic painters generally work on boards, so mass-produced floater frames don’t fit. Even if we were to switch back to canvas, they must be carefully positioned and then screwed down. That’s too hard to do on the back deck of a hatchback. Metallic paint is fine because it can be patched, but gilt and fine wood surfaces are too fragile to move around in a car over bad roads. In most shows, frameless isn’t an option.

Drying sails, by Carol L. Douglas. This frame was an old standby for many years. It clashes with nothing, but clients sometimes complain that it's too dark.
I’ve been coveting Taos by King of Frames for over a year now, ever since I saw it at Jane Chapin’s house. It’s simple, elegant, and too pricey for a plein air event frame. For the second year in a row, I’ve reluctantly passed on it.

Frames are as subjective as the paintings they contain, but they send strong signals to buyers. You can’t be all things to everyone, but it’s helpful to know where you stand in the bigger currents of fashion.

5 comments:

Mary Helen said...

That farmhouse chic all comes back to Joanna Gaines. She's THE style setter of our time (think those weird geometric light fixtures and shiplap) and I don't think her influence is going to wane any time soon.

Carol Douglas said...

That's a great insight! Thank you!

Rebecca Gorrell said...

Out in the wild West (Colorado) where I park myself most of the time, the trend at the annual juried show was at least 95% plain black, flat frames 3" or more wide. Some with those tiny fancy touches that let you know the artist was either really confident of selling, or in it as a hobby, but nearly all black, regardless. A few silver or gold fillets, but not much. Lots of floaters, in spite of many paintings being on wood, with slightly rough edges, which I found odd...

Rebecca Gorrell said...

Out here in Colorado, the trend at the annual juried Plein Air Assoc show was 95% all black, mostly flat, 3" wide (or wider) frames. With a few floaters, in spite of many of the paintings being on wood or masonite panels, with slightly rough edges, which I found a bit odd...

Carol Douglas said...

I like black frames but I notice they go nowhere here in the East. Maybe the sun is too dim to make black look good?