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John Singleton Copley portraits reframed at the Baltimore Museum of Art
The Wilner woodworkers began with roughly shaped blanks of wood and final renderings of the frames printed to scale for the master carvers to reference.
NEW YORK, NY.- The master framers of Eli Wilner & Company recently completed two hand-carved and gilded, openwork Rococo-style frames for a pair of portraits by John Singleton Copley at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The existing frames on the portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hooper were in presentable condition, but were not historically appropriate, leading the museum’s curators to seek a solution from Eli Wilner & Company. Copley was known to have selected a specific style of frame for paintings done at the time these portraits were painted.

Though finding antique frames for the paintings would have been the optimal choice, the chances of locating a pair of frames in the appropriate sizes and within budget was a near impossibility. The museum trusted the Wilner team to use traditional methods in creating the new frames and knew that they would be able to create accurate replica frames working almost entirely from photographs and drawings, much of the time without an original frame on hand to reference. This was much the same way they created their monumental frame for Washington Crossing the Delaware at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A tremendous amount of planning goes into creating frames that are this elaborate. Before any carving can begin, detailed measurements and calculations are required to determine the placement of the corner and center ornaments ensuring that they appear in the correct proportion.

The Wilner woodworkers began with roughly shaped blanks of wood and final renderings of the frames printed to scale for the master carvers to reference. After months of carving, a thin layer of gesso was applied to the entire surface. Much of the surface was then re-carved by hand so that none of the fine details would be lost, or appear “flooded.” This alternating process of gesso and carving was repeated numerous times until the gesso layer was established and the right amount of crispness was reached. Once the surface was sufficiently smooth, bole (a type of fine clay) was applied with a brush to prepare the frame for water gilding. After the gold leaf was burnished, complex finishes were used to patinate the surface, tone down the brightness of the gold, and give the frame a period-appropriate color and sense of age.

The paintings have now been paired with their new frames and will return to view shortly.

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