Way to Wayzgoose! | An Interview with Carl Shafer
By: Allyssa Burdine
Carl Schafer, part owner of Gordy Fine Art & Framing, specializes in preservation picture framing and antique frame restoration. He will be joining Interrobang Wayzgoose speakers this April. Through Carl’s presentation, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about a current restoration project that he has taken on for preserving the antique portraits of two prominent Hoosier citizens.
Recently a museum client reached out to Carl with an inquiry about framing two oval portraits of a married couple from the 1840s-1850s that had been added to the museum’s collection. The couple were successful business leaders in the small midwestern city where the museum client is located. As with many successful business leaders of the time, they also had a large influence onthe economic, social, and political life of their community. They are very important to the history of their community and the two portraits were recently given to the museum by their previous owner, possibly a descendant of the people pictured. When the museum received them, the paintings were in need of conservation and did not have frames. So the museum sent them to a painting conservator and then commissioned Gordy’s to find an appropriate solution for framing them. With the conservation work and the addition of the frames, the museum will be able to better tell the history of these two important civic/business leaders and place their story appropriately within the history of the city.
Shaferwas given no special requirements for the order other than that the frames needed to fit the oval portraits.Initially, he thought that it would be best to create a new frame out of raw wood, gild it in gold, and decorate it in a way that would be accurate to the 1840s-1850s. However, he soon discovered that crafting an oval frame is a lost technique, as well as a potentially hazardous process. During the height of the period of oval-framed portraits, the wood used for the frames would have been sawed with a tightly arched blade that would be spinning to cut away at the wood. While there were options available to create frames that featured the oval shape that is desired for the portraits, there was no way to use the traditional process of carving. The traditional creation of oval frames could prove hazardous as one small bounce or jostling out of place for the wood block during carving could cause a piece of wood to split out from the arched blade and potentially cause injuries.
This left Shafer with the option of using modern methods to recreate the frames; he would have to hire someone to cut the frame out with a computer programmed saw. His only other option outside of brand new frames was to try his luck at locating the correct sized frames through auctions. He often “peruse(s) online auctions just to see what is out there being sold. He rarely buys anything on impulse unless he can acquire something valuable at a low price.
Deciding to try his luck before resorting to using 21st-century technology, Shafer attended an auction where he saw two period-accurate frames for sale.
“I purchased the frames from a local estate auction.. The frames were in poor condition and were not paired with paintings of historical or cultural significance. I was recognized the potential to resurrect these frames and appropriately place them on the museum's portraits.”
To add to the successs of his find, the frames at the auction were the exact dimensions of the oval frames he had been attempting to find.
Shafer has begun work on restoring the frames from the auction and will be documenting the process to show at his discussion during Interrobang Wayzgoose. The frames will receive fresh gilding after pieces of the frame have been recast and repaired, and the movement of the wood through time, air, and moisture exposure have been corrected, creating a new immediate context for the artwork that will be displayed at the museum.
Join us as Carl Shafer discusses the process of frame restorations through techniques of recasting their decorations, smoothing the cracked layers of gold gilt back down to the wood frame, and the water gilding both oval frames. Upon the completion of the project, Shafer will have helped to create the best of all worlds for the museum portraits as he will have successfully restored period accurate frames that will allow for a true preservation project and an accurate depiction of the couple at the center of the museum’s story.
This piece was written by a Ball State University student and member of the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. The Book Arts Collaborative is dedicated to preserving and promoting the apprentice-taught skills of letterpress printing and book binding through community interaction. It's not just what we make that matters, but how we learn from one another to make it happen.