People who live in a high-altitude, dry climate, like the Southwest, may be concerned about the care and preservation of their precious artwork. However, “in this climate, artwork is better off than in more humid places,” said Michael Vigil, artist and owner of Gallery Elena. “It is a very desirable climate because we don’t get the mold that is so common in the back east, for example. That’s why many artists came here in the first place.”
Still, some precautions should be taken to preserve the artwork and prevent damage. Since sunlight is the main cause of discoloration and fading it is advisable to use ultraviolet-filtering glasses on prints and especially on textiles, and never hang a piece on a wall directly opposite a window.
“Some of the newer inkjet prints are pretty stable,” said Robbie Scott, owner of Final Touch Framing, “but I still wouldn’t hang them in direct sunlight. All textiles and watercolors should have ultraviolet glasses on them to avoid fading.”
Excessive moisture can be as bad as too much sunlight. “Though it tends not to be a problem here in the dessert, one needs to be careful and not hang a valuable piece of art in a damp place,” said Scott. “Condensation can stain or permanently discolor the artwork.”
A good frame is important—it both enhances and protects the work of art. But when framing is done using the wrong materials, it could cause harm to the piece, rather than shield it. “If you have a painting, a textile or any kind of artwork that have been framed in the last twenty years, make sure that the materials used in the mats, backing, adhesives and hinges are acid-free,” said Scott.
Nowadays most of them are acid-free but people used to use masking tape (or worse, duct tape) to affix artwork to the backing or frame. In that case, they should be replaced as soon as possible to help prevent further deterioration. Masking tape leaves a residue and it is practically impossible to get it off the artwork.
Oil paintings are framed without glass, but should also be kept away from excessive smoke and direct sunlight.
“Special attention needs to be paid to watercolors,” said Vigil. Its very nature makes them fragile and more susceptible to damage than other mediums. It is recommended to frame them because dust and stains, once settled, are very difficult to remove without damaging the artwork. Using ultra violet-filtering glass is a must for them.
Textiles, particularly when they are old, wools and silks should be dry-cleaned before they are framed. Dry cleaning will kill moths and their larvae, which are natural enemies of wool. “Use pesticides to keep your home free of insects, but never spray the surface of the artwork,” said Scott.
Navajo textiles should be kept away not only from direct sunlight but also from bright artificial lights to avoid bleaching of the dyed wool yarns. Ultra violet filtering glasses help protect them, but if you have them hanging, use a metal or wooden dowel rod, don’t nail them to the wall! Inspect the back of the rug often, because moths use the side against the wall to lay their eggs.
It is better not to place textiles near the kitchen; the natural fibers tend to absorb odors and even grease. Washing isn’t recommended, it is safer to vacuum clean them. “They can be dry-cleaned, but testing should be done before,” said Scott.
It is never a good idea to hang oil paintings and anything that doesn’t have a glass over a fireplace because the heat coming from the chimney and the walls, and the changes from hot to cold, can make the artwork crack. The soot from the fireplace will also damage it. If you absolutely want to hang that painting above the fireplace, mount it to the wall and leave a couple of inches of “air space” between the piece and the wall.
In frames, the glass shouldn’t touch directly any original artwork because the photo or painting may stick to the back of the glazing, or moisture can get inside and grow mold. Contact between the artwork and the glass can be avoided using spacers or mats.
“Make sure that the backing paper is intact so that no bugs can get inside and cause trouble,” said Scott. Textiles and wools ought to be inspected periodically too, for the same reason. Enjoy your artwork and prevent bugs and critters from doing the same.
Finally, Caring for Your Art: A Guide for Artists, Collectors, Galleries and Art Institutions, by Jill Snyder and Joseph Montague, is a great reference book for any artist or art collector. It contains valuable information about protecting, transporting and displaying artwork.
Final Touch Framing is located at 800 Bond Dr # B
Gallery Elena is located at 111 Morada Lane
From Gallery Elena, Taos, NM