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Eli Wilner & Company reframes Thomas Cole's Genesee Scenery for the RISD Museum
Rows of cast ornament are prepared to be applied to a replica of an 1870 American picture frame in the Eli Wilner & Company studio.

NEW YORK, NY.- In December of 2018, Eli Wilner & Company reframed an important painting by Thomas Cole in the collection of the​ Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art. In early 2019, upon installing the artwork into the frame and returning it to the gallery, the RISD Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Maureen O’Brien, stated:

“​I cannot begin to describe the way in which the Wilner frame has transformed Thomas Cole's Genesee Scenery...It is as if we had rediscovered a major American painting that had been hiding in plain sight in the collection. It is now monumental in its presentation -- every aspect of the frame enhances and honors the art and the landscape."

Thomas Cole’s “Genesee Scenery (Mountain Landscape with Waterfall)”, 1847, 51 ½ x 39 ¼ inches, is one of the most import​ant American paintings in the museum’s collection. Prior to this reframing undertaking, it had been housed in 1970s stock molding. RISD had previously discussed this project with the Wilner team several years earlier, but at the time the museum was unable to allocate sufficient conservation-related funds. They were thrilled to revisit the conversation when a gift from private donors with an interest in frames coincided with the receipt of recent outreach materials relating to the Eli Wilner & Company museum funding program.

Generally speaking, the Hudson River School painters were all known for their distinctive personal frame choices and often dictated the designs of frames for specific paintings, including color and scale. Eli Wilner & Company is widely known for their expertise in the historically-appropriate framing of this genre. In four decades of business, they have completed an extensive number of reframing and frame restoration projects for works by Thomas Cole and many of his contemporaries for major museums, auction houses, and private collections. Frame suggestions are usually offered based on research from a 5-10 year stylistic period, primarily dictated by how the designs evolved relative to changing artists’ perspectives and choices in subject matter. In this particular case, the museum’s curatorial team had a desire to match the specific aesthetic of another institution’s successful presentation of a Thomas Cole painting in a frame style from a period slightly later than that of the actual painting.

The frame selected to be copied for “Genesee Scenery” was an 1870 American fluted cove style frame, gilded with applied ornament from the Eli Wilner & Company inventory of over 3,000 antique frames. The original frame’s profile has a width of 6 ⅝ inches wide and it was decided by everyone involved that no changes to scale in the replica frame would be necessary.

Knowing how long the museum had wanted to give this painting a deserving frame, Eli Wilner & Company made every effort to expedite this project. A frame of this design and size required the highly specialized skills of the entire Wilner studio staff. First a master carpenter constructed the wood substrate to exacting specifications from multiple lengths of wood. Meanwhile, mold-makers cast pristine copies of the various rows of decorative ornament. The frame was then securely joined and the ornament pieces mounted in place. Carvers worked to insure that all the ornaments would resolve perfectly and symmetrically at the frame’s miters. The finishing department then began preparing the frame for water-gilding by applying several painted layers of gesso and clay, which is frequently referred to as bole. The frame was then gilded, selectively burnished, and finished to match a period frame surface that would also complement the color palette of the painting itself.

This is the third project in five years that Wilner has completed for the RISD Museum. In 2013, they restored the period frame for Sanford Gifford’s “View of Lake Geneva”, and in 2016 RISD was one of dozens of institutions that received a replica frame via an Eli Wilner & Company Museum Gifting Program. For the gift frame, the RISD curatorial team selected John Frederick Kensett’s “View of Lake George” to be the recipient. Reflecting collectively on these collaborations, RISD curator Maureen O’Brien aptly surmised:

“​The American landscape paintings in public collections give testimony to our cultural history. Their importance is magnified when they are presented in frames that project viewers into the essential sensations of nature and enhance understanding of our shared patrimony.”

Eli Wilner, together with his studio and gallery staff, are incredibly grateful for all the institutions large and small who allocate funds for framing and frame restoration projects, which help preserve these aspects of history and also carry on artisan techniques that might otherwise be lost. Proposals from all cultural institutions for matching fund projects are welcomed on an ongoing basis and reviewed daily.

Today's News

February 13, 2019

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