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Conservation Framing: A Shield Against Acid and Light
Frames add elegance to any work of art, but they can also protect it from the ravages of time. Read on to learn framers' techniques for preserving images.
Paintings have been known to last for nearly 40,000 years on the walls of a cave, but most artwork in the world may not last more than a few decades above a living-room mantel. Continually exposed to environmental factors, even professionally framed pieces will degrade, fade, and potentially decay over time if not properly preserved. To mitigate this, conservation-framing techniques protect delicate works by focusing on two parts of a frame's anatomy: the mat and the glass.
In an acidic environment, the fibers in artwork gradually break down—a process that accelerates the longer it isn't treated. To shield against acid exposure, conservation mats are treated to make sure they are pH neutral or slightly alkaline. Typically, the mats also consist of cotton rag or purified wood that tests negative for the presence of lignin, a common chemical compound that produces acid over time.
Although standard glass works well to protect artwork from probing fingers and curious tongues, it still leaves paintings vulnerable to UV radiation, both from the sun and from fluorescent lighting. Available in a number of classes and price points, conservation glass filters out most—up to 98%—of UV radiation, preventing colors from fading due to photolytic degradation while still allowing for, in many cases, seamless visual clarity.