Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Art of Framing Stands Alone

I was in my 30s when I first noticed among my pictures a small watercolor framed earlier which had stains permeating the paper on which it had been painted, apparently due to an unfortunate use of inappropriate adhesive applied by an unwitting but uninformed framer.

In those years, I was unaware of what are now standard procedures in conservation framing but everything that has been framed since then has been fine in its protection of the paper, the pigment and the essence of the image which, of course, should remain unchanged over time...the ideal objective in framing.

Here in my apartment there is a really wonderful collection of frames, in which reside paintings and drawings, some by myself, others by members of my family who are artists, and some by artist friends.

But there's also another dimension to the art of framing, beyond the holistic rightness of the methodology of framing, which has to do with the process that weds the image to its partner: the ideal frame.

My own preference is to paint on paper, not canvas, and have for years used a certain strong yet fine grained watercolor paper that comes in the form of watercolor blocks. It's a wonderful paper that can withstand multiple layers of watercolor and pastel and ink, and yet, like all paper, is vulnerable to the onslaughts of time, moisture and even so subtle an influence as air.

I like Instagram a lot, particularly when am able to post a photo of some small view of nature and then write a caption for it. I have so often found and posted leaves that were pelted by the rain and sent down to the ground before they've even experienced their season of summer days and nights. One caption describes photos of leaves flat on their backs on a wet pavement, the rain only bringing out more beautifully their extraordinary colors and delicate linework. So regarding a painting, fellow sibling to a leaf, its fate is not to be left to chance and the hazards of weather, but instead to find a comfy, permanent home in the two (yet also three) dimensional world called a frame.

I sometimes save favorite leaves in a book, an old and excellent dictionary that belonged to my aunt Connie, and think that once placed there, the leaf can relax and be safe from wind, rain, and life's general chaos. Likewise, a picture housed in its unique frame (chosen to surround it but also to harmonize with it) is in safe harbor just as its leaf siblings are in the dictionary. It can finally just itself...and look out through the glass at a world that is otherwise unsafe for things made of paper.

After finding that sadly damaged watercolor (due to the unfortunate framing process years ago) I looked into Yellow Pages to find a shop in New York City that both did conservation framing and was open on Saturdays. My daughters and I lived in Roosevelt Island at the time, and my job, being Monday to Friday there on the Island, required going over to Manhattan on a Saturday to visit a framing shop. And of all the places called, only one said, yes, we're here Saturday afternoons. That was Hammerquist Gallery, and I was speaking to its owner, Bob Hammerquist, at the shop that was then on Third Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets. Bob and his wife, Cathy have had, over the years, several framing shops in the same neighborhood, the Rose Hill section of the city, just south of Murray Hill. Their earliest shop was on East 30th Street, with, as Cathy once told me, a lovely distinctive red door looking out onto 30th Street. The second shop was on Third Avenue at 29th Street, and this one now is at 529 Second Avenue Street, between 29th and 30th Streets (see the photo just below.)

The view looking toward the door on Second Avenue...
the wall covered with spectacular frames.

I went on to become a customer, proceeding to have a first small bunch of watercolor, ink, and pastel landscapes framed, a harmonious combination of moulding and mat and "breathing space" that have never ceased to admire, now decades later. Posted here is a photo of the corner of one of these first framings done back then. In those days they were often mouldings that Hammerquist Gallery fashioned themselves: buying wood from the lumberyard and developing their own beautiful wood stains and finishes, not to speak of the conservation mats and conservation methods throughout.

And then,  a few years later, I went on to work there at Hammerquist Gallery on Third Avenue for several years, in the office on the upstairs mezzanine,. It was such a pleasure to be in an environment where art abounded and the framing excellent. I'm hoping the pictures I post will attest sufficiently to the rarity of good framing: the "rightness" of a frame and a picture finding a perfect yin and yang relationship.

Earl Mayan

Earl Mayan, for whom this shop is named, was a teacher at Art Students League for many years, and an illustrator of Adventure Magazine covers in the 1930s, and of Saturday Evening Post short stories as well. And when he was in the army in Europe during WWII, he made a series of exceptional drawings of his fellow soldiers, which drawings he was able to roll up and keep until he could send them home to his wife. Many of these are now framed and hanging there at E. Mayan Studio, along with much more of his work, including two striking ship's paintings that were recently seen in the shop's front windows on Second Avenue, and a large painting of a restaurant in France which you will see in the photos below.

Earl Mayan was also a writer of poetry and biographical writings about the Impressionists, whom he revered. Will post more about this in future.

Here follow some Earl Mayan paintings on display in the their distinctive Hammerquist frames:

Cathy Hammerquist

Bob's wife Cathy...and Earl's daughter:  Cathy Hammerquist is an artist in oils and acrylics, whose landscapes evoke the Hudson River school of painting, and whose imaginative subject matter, such as the frog seen below and other creatures of the natural world, can also be found displayed in the shop. Cathy's paintings are also housed in beautiful Hammerquist frames.

Some of Cathy's paintings:

This last little painting of Cathy's is one I purchased and have hanging in my bedroom. It is tiny, and is housed in a little box frame which protects it and also harmonizes with the beautiful dark tones of wood and distant shore and water eddies.

Alexandra K. Sellon

Here follow some of my own watercolors and ink drawings, in Hammerquist frames. (Some of my work may also be seen there at E. Mayan Studio.)

This is one of a series of images drawn in the marvelous Medieval rooms of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to which paint was later applied at home (but in this case, it remained an ink drawing.) A small corner of my living room is peopled with these Medieval figures, including several Madonnas with baby tenderly carried. This Hammerquist moulding is particularly ideal for the has a copper bevel and an intricate carved design on the outside.

The first such drawing done at the Met was while I was an art student at Pratt Institute: it was a 13th century polychomed mother and child, about 12 inches tall, but enormously appealing to me in its feeling and simplicity and sweetness. My drawing was done on newsprint (as was the case for all the art students on field trips) but it was very considerately framed by my mother way back then, which accounts for its survival to this day intact. 

One of several fish drawings done on a particular day at Citarella Fish Market on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a Hammerquist framing I love.

A Roman coin miniature, in one of the mouldings nestled in the flat files at E. Mayan Studio

Colorful Bird is in a frame with graceful lines carved into the moulding, graced further by a mat with an orange bevel, a special Hammerquist detail.

And my lovely cat, Luchy (Lucia), Cornish Rex, in her round gold frame:

Lastly, here are illustrations by my grandfather, Louis Fleming. He was born in the late 1800s, the youngest of five children, his mother having died when he was just a little guy. He went to school only through 8th grade, proceeding then to work almost as an apprentice, learning to do illustrations on a newspaper. He had assignments of things like fires and other happenings, this in the days before photography was used for papers. He and his brothers all were artists or in the world of printing. The two illustrations which follow were several of the many freelance jobs he did for years. The first below was for Mohonk Mountain House in 1925 and the second, for Texaco in 1929. At age 50, he became Art Director of Conde Nast Press, where he worked until he was 75. I always wished I'd known him to talk to when I was a student artist and a grownup person, but when he died I was still a kid and didn't realize what I would have liked to ask him about. Here are the illustrations mentioned above, and a couple of his ship paintings, all enhanced by their Hammerquist frames (except for the last one, see the explanation which follows.)
Louis Fleming

In all his ship paintings, he always placed the tiny red dot of color on the port side of the ship (as can be seen in the painting above, as per the world of sea travel.)

This last picture is also a ship painting by Louis Fleming which is inscribed, down in the left hand corner, to my aunt Connie, in 1937. Connie was also quite an afficianado of framing. She worked for years in New York City, and lived in Greenwich Village, where she found, way back, a wonderful framer on 6th Avenue. (I think his name was Buddy Adler, as I often heard her mention him, but will look into this to be sure I am correct about his name.) I think it was her love of framing (and my mother's as well) that influenced me to hold it in such high regard. She particularly loved a dark blue with a distinctive dark red, as this framing demonstrates. And note here also that Buddy Adler too liked to add a colored bevel to a mat, as Bob has done many a time....this is the real essence of good framing and should be hailed as an art to be cherished!

A final thought about the wonder of frame mouldings and what magic they can do to a painting. There are wonders to be found within the fabulous flat drawers at E. Mayan Studio, filled with these myriad, often vintage,, a small sampling:

But the wonders of a good frame do not automatically fly forth from the drawers into the reality of the final piece: this requires the artistry of Bob Hammerquist to bring together the art and its final realization in such a way that they seem inseparable (at least as I see it on my four walls here at home in Connecticut!)

Some views of the shop walls:

And the sign in the shop's window on Second Avenue:

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