old oval Frame restore?


CGF II, Certified Grumble Framer Level 2
Sep 22, 2003
I have received as a gift an old, old picture of my great, great grandparents in one of those wonderful oval frames with convex glass.

If I decide, after closer evaluation and cleaning, to have the frame restored where will I send it?

The seems to be (I don't know much about the make up of these frames) wood base with plaster-looking stuff over it making up the swirls and flower decorations. I can't tell if it's gilded or what makes the goldish color.

I'd love someone to tell me about this frame and it's make up. I'm sure it's nothing special but I just like knowing the construction/make up and process.

This information could come in handy for a future customer. Ya, never know...
Have you checked any local museums for skilled wood workers/restorers? You might also try a high-end cabinet shop or woodworking supply outfit for a referral. I realize we're a long way from Kansas, but I have a guy who could fix you right up.

He's restored a number of frames for us - cast and replaced missing ornaments, refinish and re-gild antique frames. He's a custom wood worker by trade but can do just about anything with wood. Post or send us a picture and we'll see what we can do.

WARNING - much like custom framers custom wood workers aren't cheap (at least the good ones)

I'll try to post a picture and get some opinions to restore or not. It doesn't seem to be too bad, a few cracks, a few small chips.

Then I'll need someone to cut a backing for it since I can't cut ovals.

I disagree with Tony on this one. Cabinet makers are good with wood and finished wood. But what you have there is a completely different animal than a piece of furniture. In your case wood is merely a support for something else and, presuming that some joints must be also reinforced, a cabinet maker would only mess with the “plaster” part which he’s not prepared to understand and aptly replace or refinish. Similarly, you don’t bring a gilded frame to be refinished by a jeweler just because it was originally water gilded and jewelers work with gold. You need an antique picture frame restorer. That one knows all he needs about wood (very likely more than the next block cabinet maker) plus everything else that might be coming on top of that piece of wood we call a frame. Look up the yellow pages. Under Picture Frames entry you always find a few picture frame restorers, unless you live in a small town, in which case you need to send that frame out to a picture frame restorer of your choice.
I am not that sure that what you have there is plaster on wood (plaster is white, porous, soft and cheap). If plaster, you will be paying too much money to fix an inexpensive frame for, I forgot to mention, Tony is right in saying that you are looking at a costly project. In case your frame is not worth an expensive, professional approach, and you are interested in just passable results, I can’t offer you an intelligent solution. Most every body good with his hands may do a passable restoration job, gold paint and foam brush included. ;)

Your second post is more revealing. Fixing cracks is always a serious job for that implies a structural problem that must be addressed. Fixing a few small chips is a minor, almost cosmetical job. Cracks due to age should be kept not fixed.
so the white stuff showing through the chips and cracks is probably plaster and not worth fixing?
Most turn of the century frames (1900) were covered with gesso, a material made up of whitting and glue. The design work could wither be the same gesso and or compo, a similar material with rosin and other materials added.

In most cases I have found that it does not always pay (I charge $75/hr. for restoration) from a monitary basis to repair these frames as there were hundreds of thousands made.

A 100 year old cheap frame is still a cheap frame.

The three basic finishes other than paint were bronze powder, metal lead and gold leaf. They also combined highlights of burnished gold leaf with the bronze powder and metal leaf.

The largest problem is that after the wood has shrunk and or with water damage the gesso layer separates from the wood. What might look and feel secure one day might fall off the next day. There are no guarantees that everything will hold together.
Thank you so much for all your information. Please continue on if anyone else has any other thoughts. I'll still try to post a picture. Wish me luck.

It kinda sounds like if it's worth it to me, it's worth it - right?

I do want to know more about these frames.

Thanks again.
Well, if it only has a few cracks and chips, then I would probably hang them 'as is' and figure that this is only what we refer to as Time In Grade damage... all part of its history. If it isn't missing large chunks, then I say don't mess with it....
In full agreement with Jerome, I think that the wite stuff you see there is gesso, not plaster. But gesso is just a relatively thin coat on top of wood. The more prominent ornamentation is probably made of compo, which is severely cracked by now as a result of aging. In this case we are probably talking of a relatively inexpensive frame that may not be worth restoring.

If prominent ornaments are apparently made of same white material then there are two possibilities.

A. your frame's face is made of plaster, but plaster does not crack with time, it only breaks (are you able to say a cracked surface from a broken one?). Most likely not worh of being repaired.

B. those ornaments are in fact carved in wood and then gessoed in which case you stand a chance to have a precious frame in your hands. Such frames do crack with time in very fine intricate patterns.

Eitherway, I am going to spell out what Jerome has just aluded at. Mark my words: a few minor chips, a broken edge here and there to fix is a lengthy process. I'd say that you can't reasonably expect to be paying less than $500 for a minor restoration like that, almost a cosmetical one. It really takes much time to putty, shape and refinish the smallest chip. The area you need to touch is really larger than the missing part, and blending in surface, texture and finish is the hardest part of the job. Some times it can't be done properly and then you look at a complete refinishing job, am I right Jerome?

Frames' world is an elitist one as humans' is. Only precious frames get/deserve to be saved if ever in danger.
If they were my ggg's in the original frame with convex glass the very least I would do is hang it as is as Ellen suggested.

I would want to check into at least stabilizing the detoriation so that it could be passed to many more generations.
The hardest job is to replace the simple thin edges that have a 1/2 round as with a Whistler frame or any other thin ridge. These ridges just are a pain!

They were originally made with an extrusion process or a speciality plane or moulding blade on an automated machine. To repair these is like trying to smooth out a ding in a side panel of a car without redoing the entire side panel.

As for the white material that is thick. Some frames were cast or extruded with gesso. A couple of the period frame companies still use this method. Production manufactures still use the same process although the materials used are synthetic compounds now. Period French frames (16th and 17th century) were roughly had carved in wood and many layers of gesso were applied (10-30 layers). The detail was then carved into the gesso
Thank you everyone for your input. I appreciate everyone's willingness to help.

How should I clean it? It's very dusty. My first thought is just dry rag and dry cotton swabs...
I know it'll need more than that but not being able to tell what it's made of I know better than to put anything liquid one the rag.

Maybe a slightly damp (water) rag?

Still working on the photo.......
You need to test any methode on a small, hiden
spot before you are going ahead with it. Water gilded surfaces are instantly damaged by water
and much slower by alhol (and only after som rubbing).
Painted or metal leafed surfaces are not attacked by watter. Those ignoble surfaces are sensitive to all or some of the following agents: mineral spirit, turpentine, alcohol, nafta, acetone.
you must use, evidently, the agent that is harmless to frame's surface.