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Eli Wilner & Company restores and replicates original Florine Stettheimer frames for Columbia University
An Eli Wilner & Company artisan carefully shapes the profile of the frame.

NEW YORK, NY.- Eli Wilner & Company recently awarded a frame restoration grant to Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Art Properties, at Columbia University. Roberto C. Ferrari, the Curator of Art Properties, and Carole Ann Fabian, Director of Avery Library, proposed the re-gilding of an original frame with silver-leaf and the creation of two period replica frames in the same style that would complete a triptych of portrait paintings by Florine Stettheimer. Columbia is the primary repository for works of art and archival material by Florine Stettheimer. Stettheimer’s triptych is comprised of three exuberant portraits completed in 1923. The first is a self-portrait of Florine, and the remaining two are of the artist’s sisters, Ettie and Carrie Stettheimer. Ferrari describes these paintings as some of the most important in Stettheimer’s oeuvre.

Research by Ferrari unveiled evidence that the three portraits were at one time all framed in silver-leaf, rounded edge frames. The frame on “Portrait of My Sister, Ettie Stettheimer” was determined to be the only original frame retained in the group, although in its present state, it had been stripped and resurfaced with gold leaf.

Eli Wilner & Company and the grant award jurors took special interest in Ferrari’s proposal, very much aware that Stettheimer not only designed but created many of her own frames. Such artist-made frames, especially in the example of Stettheimer’s triptych, have the effect of establishing a greater aesthetic harmony, elegantly tying together all aspects of one or several compositions. Also, the rarity of artist-made frames made Eli Wilner & Company’s efforts in the restoration and replication of the Stettheimer frames all the more important: valuable artist-made frames are often lost through replacement to suit collectors’ evolving tastes, or to better integrate an artwork into an existing collection. The Stettheimer triptych provided a unique opportunity to recreate the artist’s original intent to present the paintings in a united, cohesive manner.

Eli Wilner & Company artisans began the restoration of the original frame by stripping off the contemporary gilded finish. This process unveiled faint remnants of the silver leaf initially used by the artist on the verso of the frame. While the surface was cleaned and prepared with gesso and clay to be re-gilded, a careful study of the molding profile was made, and lengths of wood were shaped for the two new replica frames.

A subtle and complex finish was created by master finishers, with reference to fine silver-gilded examples of mid-20th century American frames from Eli Wilner & Company’s vast collection. Often, silver-gilded examples from early-to-mid-20th century America were enhanced or sealed with unorthodox materials. Eli Wilner & Company artisans have refined their silver gilding techniques through frequent and extensive experimentation in order to replicate these beautiful effects.

The final step before uniting the frames with the paintings was to determine how the patina should appear. This was accomplished by again referencing a variety of period frames, archival images of original silver Stettheimer frames, and with careful consideration of the color palettes of the actual Stettheimer paintings. Upon completing the finish on the original frame, Ferrari reviewed the project in person to make sure that the desired character had been achieved. It was important that the frames maintain the appearance of age to match the period of the artworks, and also a subtlety that would not detract from the artworks they would house. With Ferrari’s approval, the other two frames were completed promptly in order to ensure a uniform quality across the triptych, which can be challenging on such a delicate, handmade finish.

The timing of the re-framing of the Stettheimer triptych is significant, as Columbia will be a major lender to “Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, May 5 – September 24, 2017. The exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, opening in October 2017. Eli Wilner & Company is proud to have sponsored such a worthy project, and both the Eli Wilner & Company and Art Properties teams look forward to viewing the triptych exhibited for the first time outside of the Stettheimer family collection.

Eli Wilner & Company specializes in European and American period frames and frame restoration, boasting an inventory of over 3,500 frames spanning the 15th century to the present. For over 30 years, Eli Wilner & Company has been entrusted with the creation of thousands of historically appropriate frames for renowned auction houses, museums and private collectors.

The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library is one of the most comprehensive architecture and the fine arts library collections in the world. Avery collects a full range of primary and secondary sources for the advanced study of architecture, historic preservation, art history, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology. Founded in 1895, the Avery collections comprise 650,000 volumes, 40,000 rare books, 2.5 million architectural drawings and archives, and the art collection of Columbia University.

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