The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 7: “Finally, The Frame”
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The Conservation of Guy Wiggins – Episode 7: “Finally, The Frame”

September 9, 2019


Upon seeing the painting after conservation
my client wisely decided that addressing the frame would not only be prudent but be of
great benefit to the painting as well. Having installed the painting into the frame with
brackets and screws, the removal was easy and didn’t subject the painting to any unnecessary
stress. Before any work could begin on the front of the frame attention must first be
paid to the back. All of the old hanging hardware was removed as its functionality and security
was highly questionable. In addition the back of the frame needed to be fully cleaned of
the old paper tape and glue residues before the actual conservation could begin. This
paper is often applied to make the back of the frame appear tidy but serves no functional
purpose and is just messy to deal with. With the frame construction now revealed the disassembly
could begin. The liner was removed as per my client’s request the linen would not be
replaced, rather it would be gilded to match the frame. After stripping and disassembling
the liner the old glue needed to be removed as well. As this was white glue a chemical
stripper was needed to remove the adhesive and as the chemicals are toxic a full face
respirator is essential. While all of this may seem excessive, crafting a new liner was
unnecessary and trying to reuse the original if possible is always best.
With the frame disassembled the work on the front could now begin. At one point in the
past the frame was gessoed over and glazed in white and brown paint. This was probably
done as styles changed and the original frame seemed out of fashion. Luckily for us the
quality of the work was low and the original shellac never removed so the gesso didn’t
form a very strong bond to the frame and with a bit of labor it can be removed. Using a
stiff nylon brush along with other tools the paint and gesso layer was chipped, scraped,
flaked and manipulated off the surface of the frame. Water, alcohol and enzyme cleaner
were all used to remove the gesso residue and remaining bits of shellac. Making sure
that all of the contaminates were fully removed from the gold leaf was essential as a pure
surface is necessary for re-gilding and the other work to come. Using a stiff bristle
brush and soft towels to remove the residues allows the intensity of the original gold
to come into full view. The stability of the ornamentation is checked
as over time it can become detached from the wood molding and lost. When a loose piece
is found it’s removed and set aside until it can be rebounded with the wood using a
stable conservation adhesive. Luckily no molding was lost and no casting was needed. The liner was reassembled, glued, and clamped
together in preparation for planing and sanding. All of this is done to ensure that the surface
of the wood is smooth and free of imperfection and ready to accept the new gesso layer.
To make the gesso a high strength hide glue is combined with water, allowed to sit and
swell, heated, strained and then combined with guilders whiting, mixed and strained
until creamy smooth. Normally rabbit skin glue is used but in this case as the liner
will have to be distressed the extra strength of the hide glue is warranted.
Up to eight thin coats of gesso will be successively applied to the wood. The gesso can be brushed
on as in this case or sprayed for a larger scale of work. Once dry it will be sanded
smooth in preparation for the application of the bole. Like the gesso the bole will
be applied in many thin layers and eventually wet sanded, buffed and polished to a smooth
surface. Again, this can be sprayed when the surface is highly sculpted or there are many
frames requiring this step. Once the bole is smooth and polished the gilding
can begin. The first step is to apply a size and in this case an oil product is being used
as opposed to a water, alcohol, or rabbit skin glue option due to its long open time,
extra durability and frankly forgiveness. A suede gilders pad receives the delicate
23 karat Italian leaf and it’s then cut with a gilding knife to manageable sizes. A gilders
tip brush of natural animal hair with a slight static charge will pick up the leaf enabling
its placement onto the tacky size. The leaf is pressed into the size and allowed to sit.
A mop or other soft haired brush is used to press the leaf into the size and remove the
extra gold which can be saved for later use. At this point the liner is ready for distressing
and toning to match the original frame. Using high tech tools such as tape and sandpaper
the surface of the liner is distressed and worked in an effort to match the state of
the original frame. The toning of the gold is done with blonde shellac and pigment dyes.
Successive layers of shellac can be applied, removed, and otherwise worked until the tone
and appearance of the gold matches the original. Other substances such as pumice or rottenstone
are used to simulate dust and dirt. In addition to toning the liner the client desired to
have the intensity of the gold brought down a bit so the entire surface of the frame is
tinted as well. Matte milk paint is mixed to a neutral tone
and applied to the edges of the frame where no gilding was added.
Acid free cotton rag paper is cut and applied to the part of the liner rabbet that makes
contact with the paint to protect it. The painting can now be installed into the
conserved frame using brackets and screws and new hanging hardware installed ensuring
the this frame will remain where is should; firmly on the wall.
And now to go along with the conserved painting we have the frame fully restored. Midway through
the cleaning of the frame I invited my client in to the studio to view the state of the
gold and after discussing the options including a full stripping we decided that the condition
of the leaf wasn’t such that it was visually problematic and that all new leaf wasn’t necessary.
My client wasn’t bothered by the wear to the leaf and felt that it added something to the
frame and painting. The choice to tone down the intensity of the gold was, in my opinion
a wise one as it allows the frame to be brilliant without dominating the painting.

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  1. Watching you make the gesso reminds me of my mom. She is an artist and makes gesso the same way. I could almost smell it as you worked with it. Perhaps a silly question why no layer of just the glue before the gesso? Is that to help facilitate the removal later?

  2. It's hard to believe someone would choose to cover up that beautiful gilt work with that ugly, ugly paint. You've done the painting and the frame a great service by restoring it to the artists original vision.

  3. That transition at the end was absolutely breathtaking to see, I can't believe that someone would paint over such beautiful gilding!

  4. Me, a moron: I kind of like the original frame, though.
    Me, after this video: OH WOW. Okay, I'm dumb.

    I cannot get enough of your videos! Such fascinating, painstaking work!

  5. Wow, I'm so happy you decided to create these videos. It's a whole other depth I can appreciate when I see work. Also, it helps us understand the cost of labor for your very complex work.

  6. Awesome episodes, beautiful work, your videos are so therapeutic and your dedication and love for your work is just amazing! 🙏

  7. I love the gentle and soft-spoken yet clearly passive-aggressive way he critiques the customers reluctance about the frame. 🙂

  8. Top of frame looks dark, bottom of frame lighter. I think the painting should have been flipped. Snowy part of painting above the dark edge of the frame and the dark buildings below the lighter edge of the frame. Unless it is a lighting situation in the studio, then it is a moot point. Just my opinion.

  9. I really can’t get enough of these vids I love the narrated ones that are like 12 minutes long it’s so relaxing and educational at the same time

  10. I wish this was my job! The workmanship, skill and knowledge that goes in to restoring a paint is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

  11. Thank you for explaining every step so thoroughly. It lets me – and who knows, others – to understand the importance of the things happening, and in the order that is followed, and lets me appreciate the effort that goes into this even more. Congratulations on a job well done!

  12. watching your videos is just like a theraphy for my eyes. thanks for this amazing work and sharing with us

  13. I'm almost crying as I start to watch this. I love frames so much. I know it's weird, but I do. More than the paintings or pictures in them, I love the frames. I'm always buying old/unique picture frames at Goodwill even though I never get around to putting photos in them. Maybe in an alternate dimension I'm restoring beautiful old frames like this one. 🙂

  14. At the end of the previous video I was very disappointed to hear about owner’s decision to keep the old frame. It is such a pleasure to see that in the end sanity prevailed. Btw, beautiful work 👏👏👏

  15. Thank you so much for this series. I love the amount of detail you go into when you can focus on just one stage.

  16. "Up to 8 thin coats of gesso will be successively applied to the wood…"

    …Proceeds to bathe the wood in the thickest coat possible xD
    I love the not-so-subtle sarcasm peppered through the video; keep up the great content!

  17. “High Tech tools such as tape and sandpaper”
    – Juilan Baumgartner 2019

    A joke only art conservators will get

  18. Anyone else scream at whoever decided to cover that beautiful gilding???? It’s like covering original hardwood floors with vinyl 🤬

  19. I just want to know who goes out of their way to gild a frame in actual gold leaf and is then like, nah, let's paint over it, I prefer the colour of cheap mud ^^"

  20. I was looking up the value of Guy Wiggins paintings. They can cost anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars. Similar paintings to that one were worth tens of thousands of dollars.

  21. I was in shock when I realised the undercoat of the frame was golded! 😀 such a lovely frame and someone in the past covered it up..damn…

  22. The finished restoration looks absolutely great. The work on the frame and the toned-down gilding made all the difference and brought the painting alive.

  23. “Fortunately for us the quality of work was low” i love when his petty restorator side comes out😂😂

  24. The one thing I’m learning while watching this is how other people are almost always going in and changing the original. The original is always so much more beautiful.

  25. I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you sharing your work with us on youtube. I'm sure all the time spent filming, and editing is considerable. However, because of your channel I've been given a newfound appreciation for conservation of these works of art and the incredible attention to detail your job requires. Bravo sir!

  26. I think this video has the highest like-to-dislike ratio I've ever seen on youtube! 99.7% of people liked it. And I feel sure the 58 dislikes were from bots.

  27. So at what point in recent history did gold frames become out of fashion and brown/gray frames were in? I suppose the gold was seen as ostentatious or gaudy? I personally prefer a more "natural" wood color when it comes to traditional paintings. At least based on what I've seen in museums around the world. As always, impecable work, description and video editing. May your business continue to flourish.

  28. This video is amazing but its too fast! You're talking way too fast and we dont even had the time to process each procedure :/

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