Long considered the silent partner of showpiece art, the frame has finally gained recognition as an art form in its own right. As expert Eli Wilner explains, frames reflect the artistic styles of their era and, as with clothing, their styles have evolved over time. In the early eighties, fashion dictated that galleries and museums update the frames of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century paintings; most often the original frames were simply discarded. Eli collected these castoffs by the thousands and started a small gallery specializing in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American frames. Once unappreciated and considered worthless, such frames can now greatly enhance a painting's value -- as well as its aesthetic worth.

Eli shows Martha several examples of gilt frames that might work with a small still-life painting, demonstrating how to choose one that best corresponds with the painting's style and composition. Eli maintains that period frames are essential to understanding and appreciating a painting as the artist originally intended it. Some artists carved their own frames, while others worked closely with frame makers to execute their designs. A frame signed by the artisan significantly increases its worth. Some notable frame makers and designers include:

Charles Prendergast (1863-1948). An accomplished painter, Prendergast drew inspiration for his frames from the Chinese and Persian collections at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. He and his brother Maurice are among the most influential twentieth-century American frame makers.

Stanford White (1853-1906). Renowned as an architect, White often designed frames with rich architectural elements to complement his interiors.

Frederick Harer (1880-1940). A painter, sculptor, etcher, and frame maker from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Harer was known for his use of stencils, incising, and burnishing and was greatly influenced by Spanish and West Indian art.


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