Frame of mind

I love art. When I was growing up, my friends would hang Michael Jordan posters on their walls while I tended more toward Salvador Dali. When I was in high school, I happened upon a small vintage poster and pinned it to my wall. After I graduated college, I had it framed. Cheaply. No conservation glass, archival mounting or acid-free mat.

Today, it turns out that poster is worth a good bit more than I paid for it. But the lame frame job hasn't helped it keep its value.

Having visited countless galleries, framing shops, design studios, and beautifully decorated homes over the past decade or so, I've seen a wide variety of art, pictures, and other keepsakes displayed on those walls. Some have been beautifully displayed. Others not so much.

Sure, sometimes it's just bad art, but that's a matter of taste. More often, the problem is the wrong frame. Wrong size, wrong color, wrong style. Or worse, wrong material, invisibly allowing a cherished piece of art to deteriorate slowly.

I've also visited art museums all over the United States and abroad and recall that the frames I've seen there always work, are always beautiful and, I would imagine, always designed to protect and conserve the often priceless works of art.

How do they do it? To find out, and more importantly, to get some tips on how homeowners can benefit from the same techniques, I decided to go where the museums go.

JLP Fine Art & Custom Framing Galleries in Baltimore is known among museum curators, conservators, art collectors and "average Joes" alike for high-quality, classic framing. The frame shop, owned by Thomas Stone, is one of the few in the area that still offer such Old World techniques as finished corners, hand-carved accents and custom gilding.

JLP was established in 1974 by James L. Pierce. Stone joined the JLP team in the mid-1990s, purchased the business in 2006 and shortly thereafter added to the midtown frame shop with an art gallery in Green Spring Station.

Featuring such artists as Philip Koch, Emily Gaines Demsky, Micah Cash and Lat Naylor, the gallery seeks to present a wide range of contemporary artwork from both local, emerging and nationally recognized artists. And while Stone's gallery features work in a variety of mediums, it's always against the backdrop of frames.

Hundreds of corner sections in metal, wood, silver, gold, cherry and pine weave a herringbone pattern on the walls. So what's Stone's advice for narrowing down the options?

"Frames should complement what is being framed. Often, more is made of the frame than the art itself," he says. "Triple mats and double frames are trends that will date the artwork instead of allowing it to be timeless."

For that reason, frames should not be selected specifically to match the decor. Aesthetic value aside, there's a reason museums and personal collections are filled with centuries-old paintings but not nearly as many tables and chairs the same age. Furnishings tend to follow trends because every decade or so they need to be replaced.

Upholstered pieces become stained or the frames begin to loosen over time. Drapes fade. Painted or papered walls need to be refreshed every five to ten years.

Because art hangs on the wall, though, it outlasts most home furnishings.

"You don't sit on it, walk on it or eat on it," Stone says. Done correctly, art pieces and their respective frames generally won't wear out, so there's really no need to replace them.

That being the case, Stone says, "with framing it's best to stick with classic styles that will work in any era," no matter what color you paint the walls.

Stone offered some framing "dos" and "don'ts," giving tips on how to best showcase fine art, limited editions, photographs, posters and memorabilia.

Fine art, limited editions

•Invest in materials. Insist on high-quality matting and glazing (glass). The added expense to upgrade from standard frame shop offerings to higher "museum grade" materials is worth it when you consider the added protection and preservation.

•Insist on expertise. Before you leave your art with a framer, determine exactly how the piece will be hinged, or secured to the framing materials. Irreparable damage to valuable art can result from faulty workmanship.

•Use restraint. Don't let your framer convince you that your art needs multiple colorful mats, double frames or fancy cuts to showcase your artwork. You chose the piece because you valued the art. Let it stand on its own. A great frame should support the artwork, not outshine it.


•Don't touch the glass! Glass resting on a photograph, especially a glossy finish, will quickly and irreparably damage your photograph. Make sure the glazing will be positioned away from your photo.

•Set your crop lines. You, not your framer should decide how much of the photograph is cropped or covered. If you want to see some of the border around the image, say so. Want to crop in on the image? Let the framer know how much should be matted over or cropped.

Posters and decorative art

•Know the value of your piece. Some posters are valuable; others are not. Don't assume your framer will know the difference. If you have a poster with some value, your framer should not "dry-mount" — permanently attaching the art to a backing board — unless absolutely necessary. Pieces with sentimental but not financial value can be dry-mounted for proper display.

•Don't be bullied. It's OK not to spend a small fortune on framing. Don't allow your framer to bully or guilt you into spending more than you intended to frame an inexpensive poster or decorative piece that could easily be replaced.


•Listen to the experts. Be open to suggestions from your framer on how best to display your collection. You might have a large collection of items that you would like to see displayed together, but be open to the idea that they might not all look great together in one frame. Work with your framer to design a layout that best showcases your items.

•Go for high-quality glazing. The glass you use determines how long your item will last. If you don't opt for a glazing that has UV protection, your item will fade over time.


Mix it up. While more ornate frames are typically used for something like an Italian Renaissance painting and contemporary pieces are often complemented by minimal frames, it's not uncommon to see someone juxtapose a traditional frame with a more modern piece of art, or vice versa.

Careful with color. Colored mats can distract from a piece, taking attention away from the art.

Wow won't always work. The visual effect of a frame should never overpower the piece of art.

Go with your gut. You know what you like. Don't be persuaded to follow a current trend if you're the least bit unsure. Remember: Classic is always in style.

Tips on finding a framer

Thomas Stone, owner of JLP Fine Art & Custom Framing Galleries, offers these tips on finding a good frame shop:

Ask about insurance Make sure your framer carries adequate insurance to protect your work. A reputable framer will have his or her own insurance policy to cover all work stored in the shop. Some framers do not carry insurance, leaving valuable pieces unprotected while in the framer's custody.

Look for experience Make sure your framer has experience with the type of work you are bringing to be framed. Every piece of art needs to be evaluated individually to determine the best presentation. If your framer is offering a "one size fits all" experience, you should consider looking elsewhere.

Shop around Just because a retailer is advertising deep discounts, that doesn't mean the final cost will be all that different from shop to shop. Don't be afraid to get a few estimates and pick the framer you feel most comfortable with.

JLP Fine Art & Custom Framing Galleries has locations at 2360 W. Joppa Road in Green Spring Station, 410-337-8490; and at 2406 N. Charles St. in Charles Village, 410-243-7368. To reach the shop online, go to