Imagine you are standing in front of a work of art, surrounded by a group of 15 inquisitive guests, when suddenly you hear some variation of an all-familiar question: “Can you tell me the history of that fantastic frame?”
As an educator, I am always receiving some questions without a ready answer, and I usually rely on my old faithful response: “That is a great question! I actually am not sure of the answer, but I would be happy to look into it for you if you will give me your contact information after the tour.” However, the frames question is problematic for me because, first of all, I am a lover of frames myself and feel disappointed that I don’t have a fascinating bit of information to share; and, second, I know that there is not a lot of research out there on frames, so finding out an answer regarding the frame in question is not always easily done.
The repeated questions, and the general interest about the frames from our tour guests, motivated me to think about a new tour for the Museum: one that focused not on the works of art so much, but rather on the masterful objects that surround them, the frames.
Through my own research, and with a considerable amount of time and guidance from the well-known frame conservator team, Tracy Gill and Simeon Lagodich of Gill & Lagodich (A Fine Period Frame Gallery in New York City), I began to draft a framework for the tour. I learned from Gill and Lagodich that there was a period in our history when American frames and their makers flourished. To capture that period in time, the tour starts in the Early Nineteenth-Century Gallery with a simple, yet striking early-American “Sully-style” frame (a simple, unembellished frame named for the American artist Thomas Sully, who popularized it), and culminates with a spectacular and intricately carved Arts and Crafts frame dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s.
The tour leads the group on a journey through time based on six historic frames in the Museum’s galleries. The Gallery Guide leads a discussion along the way, offering a glimpse of the history of frames in America, as well as pointing out the masterful craftsmanship that goes into the creation of each frame.
Working with the Museum curators and the Gill & Lagodich team to create this tour was a wonderful project that I will always treasure. But, more than that, it led me to realize that there is so much more that we can learn about these gems of our collection that are seemingly hidden in plain sight. I look forward to learning more, and it is my hope that art museums everywhere will make frames a priority in their future educational and research endeavors.
Frames Tours are held every Wednesday, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The tour is free, and no registration is required. Just meet the Tour Guide in the Museum’s main lobby about five minutes before the start time.
For more blog posts on frames in the galleries, click here.