[Photo my own.]
This morning, after pausing to admire unruly vines dripping down one of the sleek, Renzo Piano-designed wings of the High, I went up to see Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890 – 1920.
[At left: detail, circa 1894 Stanford White-designed (Alexander Cabus attributed maker) frame with gold leaf, gray bole (gilder's clay), and gesso applied ornament on wood. At right: detail, Charles Prendergast early 20th-century frame described further below. Both are from Beaux Arts & Crafts: Masterpieces of American Frame Design 1890 – 1920.]
It's usually a revelation to see an intricately crafted frame completely on its own, hung without a painted landscape, a pastel portrait, or even a mirror within. Displayed simply, totally out of context, and against a plain deep-gray wall, very heavy frames -- pieces that aren't always everyone's cup of tea -- suddenly can be appreciated anew. We recognize the beauty. At least for me, it's like jewelry meets architecture.
[Gilder's tools pictured in the exhibition catalogue: Max Kuehne's circa 1920 molding sample; carving tools and mallet of Frederick Harer and Bernard Badura; colored bole cones, or gilder's clay; lump of dragon's blood resin and gold leaf from William B. Adair. Photo by Ed Owen, Gold Leaf Studios, Washington, D.C.]
[David Flint Wood photographed by Fernando Bengoechea for a House Beautiful story produced by Miguel Flores-Vianna.]
Of course, empty, not-so-precious frames propped against walls or stacked on shelves have long been a perennial favorite of stylists and designers (see some very lovely examples in this past post), but I think we've covered that before.
Back to the High's exhibition: Among the fifteen stellar moldings handcrafted in the U.S. during America's golden age of frame-making, the work of architect Stanford White (a household name in design circles) is well represented. But today, a circa 1910 frame made by Charles Prendergast -- a craftsman/artist known for his simpler, less formal, very original and quirky style -- grabbed my attention. Detail views, which don't do it justice, are pictured second from the top, on the right, and below.
According to the exhibition notes, Prendergast was inspired by 18th-century Venetian models yet had a contemporary sensibility. For example, he did not carve his frames in such high relief. Typically, he incised and punched patterns into his golden handcarved moldings as if "drawing the design on a piece of paper." The frame shown here was gilded with low-karat gold leaf and muted to make the already silvery surface appear antique; Prendergast rubbed through so that the red bole (gilder's clay) peeked out and also worked chalky white gesso into the crevices.
In person, all of the frames are stunning. This is really a little jewel-box exhibition and it remains on view through November 27.