Published: July 15, 2015
Eli Wilner began his framing company in 1983 and today with 25 employees, including 15 frame conservators, working for him, he has nearly 10,000 framing projects completed, including iconic works for institutions and museums. A recent project was the restoration of a circa 1930s Jackson Pollock frame.
Tell us about this Jackson Pollock frame: who brought it in and how it came to you.
This frame belongs to the Pollock-Krasner House. Its story began in 1951 when Pollock hired an attorney named Gerard Weinstock to write his will, with the agreement that a painting would be given as payment. The 12-by-20-inch painting, dating to the late 1930s, was donated to the Pollock-Krasner House in 2001 by Mr Weinstock’s widow. With the painting, Mrs Weinstock included this recollection, “He brought over a portfolio of manageable-sized paintings and we selected one. …The following summer he presented it to us in a simple wooden frame he had fashioned.”
What work needed to be done on it? How long did the work take?
Over time, the frame had sustained dents and small chips, and the painted surface had begun to deteriorate. My team of skilled frame conservators carefully filled dents in the stained outer element. Numerous small losses in the painted surface were in-painted, and areas of previous restoration were toned to blend more harmoniously with the intact original surface. In all, about 40 hours of work went into the restoration.
Did Pollock make this frame himself?
Mr Weinstock’s widow said that Pollock “fashioned” the frame himself. Whether he shaped and painted the wood himself or made it from pre-existing moldings is unclear. What we know for sure is that the artist selected the frame, so it represents his own aesthetic decision.
Why is Pollock’s framing approach to his art often misunderstood?
The generally held assumption seems to be that Pollock preferred to show his paintings without frames, or in narrow strip frames. Our research has revealed that this was not the case.
How did you go about researching it and his framing style?
My research started when I first saw several photos taken of Pollock in his studio in Springs, N.Y. [now the Pollock- Krasner House and Study Center]. I noticed a broad, painted frame is shown on a painting behind the artist. I contacted Helen A. Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, and she was kind enough to share her insights on the subject, including several historical instances when the artist framed his works. The frame that we restored is one of those instances.
Have you worked on any other artist-made frames before and what were they?
Yes! Many of the most important painters in history have taken a great interest in framing. In some cases the artists made the frames themselves and in others they gave detailed instructions to hand-picked craftsman who would do the work. I have worked with frames made or selected by Edgar Degas, Frederic Church, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Charles Prendergast, Robert Laurent, Max Kuehne, Ben Badura, Hermann Dudley Murphy, Frederick Harer and Georgia O’Keeffe, to name a few.
What are some other current framing projects you are most excited about?
I am excited about a new program we just announced to provide “risk free” frames to people who consign artwork for sale at auction or through galleries. The way it works is that we frame their painting, enhancing its beauty and appeal, encouraging the best possible sale result. There is no upfront cost to the owner because payment is only due after the successful sale of the artwork. If the artwork fails to sell, the frame is returned to us, and no charges apply.
Are you still working a lot with museums?
This fall we are sponsoring the first fully funded frame conservation grant for American museums. My studio will restore five important American frames in public collections at no cost to the institutions. The five frames will be selected from eligible applications by a panel of distinguished jurors from the professional community. Applications will be accepted from museums, historic sites and other nonprofit cultural institutions.
Another interesting project we’re working on is the publication of a new scholarly book on Orientalist frames. We’re working with a great scholar, so watch for more news about its release.
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