I am always on the lookout for interesting wood. Some of the first interesting boards I received were from Bob Gernandt, a luthier in Bryson City. My one and only solo art exhibition in Swain County resulted in trading a pastel drawing for some lumber Bob couldn’t use in his guitars and other stringed instruments. One board was gray and very old looking on the surface, including lead shot from a shotgun years prior. It had apparently come out of a barn more than one hundred years old.
Judging by surface appearance one might have discarded this board as weathered and useless, but the swirly grain suggested that there was something hidden beneath. Bob told me the board was cherry, and I was skeptical at first, but after a good deal of planing I saw that it was indeed cherry and curly at that. Curly wood is unlike other wood in that the cells grew in an undulating fashion, transitioning from growth parallel to the surface to growth that is perpendicular. This results in a naturally shimmery, even holographic effect, desired by woodworkers. I’ve seen curly “figure” in almost every domestic hardwood including walnut, oak and especially maple. Rarity of these sorts of boards contributes to their considerably higher price.
What’s in a frame? At least a couple of hours work and several decisions. What species of wood, how thick, how wide, what finish? I tend to keep it simple when I frame artwork, usually not deviating from a basic rectangular profile. I like a width of about 1.25 to 1.75 inches and a thickness of not more than an inch. I’ve seen a lot of art framed with very ornate and decorative molding, but I’ve never been inclined to it myself. Many frames seem to be an attempt to compensate for artwork that is lacking in aesthetic appeal. Frames help us understand the art we encounter, they prepare us for the coming experience.
I like to think of my frames and matting as a way to transition from the walls to the artwork. They isolate the artwork and provide a context in which it can be viewed with minimal distraction. Much like TV or a movie theater screen, one is invited to suspend disbelief and entertain the possibility of a different world, where the imaginary or illusory becomes tangible. I’m glad to have my frames appreciated for the craftsmanship as well as the natural beauty of the wood that has been uncovered, but I don’t want them to be the focus. They serve a supporting purpose and should be appreciated primarily as a means of separating the artwork from our everyday routines. They are an invitation to the place where words stop and images begin to have expressive content.
Here is the frame above with finish, as well as another frame with a narrower profile. The finish is Formby’s Tung Oil, Low Gloss.