Bark Frameworks

Making a Frame

Resurrecting a Finish for a Silver Leaf Frame

May 2015

We were recently asked to propose frame ideas for a study of a woman painted by Nigerian artist Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo.

Our designer conceived a strong and simple border–a deep rail and panel frame, whose relative severity was to be moderated by a rich surface of patinated silver leaf. We have been working with patinas on silver leaf for many years, but none of us could remember the last time we made the very dark patina chosen for this frame, so experiments and testing had to be undertaken by our gilders and metal finishers.

While the moulding was being made and the frame constructed, we silver leafed a section of moulding and applied patinating chemicals in different strengths and durations in order to replicate our old sample. Three of the slides document this process.

The raw maple frame arrived in the gilding studio where the frame was coated with gesso (whiting mixed with rabbit skin glue and applied hot), followed by a coat of black bole (the clay layer on which the silver leaf is laid). After the leaf was laid and burnished, gilder Mary-Helen O’Brien gently rubbed the surface with pumice, cleaning up the loose silver leaf and revealing a bit of the underlying black bole. Meanwhile, Bark metalwork specialists Darrick McEachin and Chris Mondello had successfully created a patina that matched our old sample.

The gilded frame was moved into the metal room to undergo patination. Because in this process the patina evolves second-by-second, it was necessary for three people to work in concert to achieve a balanced finish. Mary-Helen, Darrick, and Chris applied the chemicals to the surface of the frame, then carefully wiped it with water to halt the process at the right instant. 

Since we have been making one of a kind frames and finishes for decades, and we have a vast inventory of samples, it’s not uncommon for us to be called upon to re-create a finish like this one, whose origins are mysterious and methods obscure. It can take considerable trial and error. In this case we, and our client, felt the outcome justified the effort. And we document our processes now with much greater care than we did decades ago, to assure consistency for future projects.



-by Jennifer M. Clark, Marketing Manager

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