In 2016, Eli Wilner & Company selected Krannert Art Museum as a recipient for their gifting program, which provides a handcrafted replica frame for one important small painting or drawing. In consultation with KAM’s curatorial team, Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American art, chose Conanicut Island Shore, a nineteenth-century painting by William Trost Richards.
In 1954, this work was given to the museum—unframed—as a bequest from the artist’s daughter, Anna Richards (Mrs. William T.) Brewster. Thanks to the generosity of Eli Wilner & Company, this stunning landscape is now on display in the Bow Gallery in its new custom-made replica of an American period (circa 1880) frame.
William Trost Richards was associated with the Hudson River School and American Pre-Raphaelites, both of which advocated for greater truthfulness to nature’s forms.
From 1874, Richards spent his summers in Newport, Rhode Island, frequently visiting nearby Conanicut Island. He had a home built on the island and moved there in 1882.
Determined to sketch in oils outdoors, Richards modified cigar boxes to hold small wooden panels, such as this one. Richards’ oil studies, which are more painterly than his studio works, record the “bare bones” of a painting: the changing effects of light and color and the relationship between the water, sky, and coast—aspects that had long motivated Richards’ fascination with the sea.
Maureen Warren interviewed Sean Morello of Eli Wilner & Company to learn more about the period frame Eli Wilner & Company designed for Conanicut Island Shore:
MW: How would you describe the frame that was made for KAM?
SM: The style and motifs used for the KAM frame, intended for the work of William Trost Richards, painted circa 1875-1880, were selected with reference to an American period frame from the 1880s that best reflects the aesthetic of the time. Making use of applied ornament and gilding, the highly decorative surface of the frame includes two cove sections with repeating foliate and geometric designs, as well as a floral motif at the top rail.
MW: How many people worked on this frame? What did each person do? What were the steps in making it?
SM: Eli Wilner frames are made by our own staff of 20 highly-skilled carvers, gilders and mold-makers, using the same materials and techniques that were used to create antique period frames. After carefully selecting an antique period frame from our vast on-site inventory, our artisans create precise molds of the frame’s surface and ornamentation. Our master carpenters then build a wooden substrate to which the cast ornament is carefully adhered so that each element resolves beautifully at the miters, a labor-intensive process that often involves hand-carving minute details near the miters to ensure that the ornament is seamless. Once the ornament is in place, the surface is prepared with successive, finely sanded layers of gesso. When the gesso has dried, the entire surface is re-carved, or 'chased' by a master carver to re-establish any details that were obscured by the gesso layer. A fine clay called bole is brushed on the surface, using the correct color of the period, and gold leaf of a particular carat and alloy is applied using a method called water gilding. Finally, the surface is hand-burnished using a tool made of polished agate in selected areas, and finished with a complex wash to precisely replicate the aged appearance of the period frame.
MW: What factors did you consider when designing this frame for the museum's painting?
SM: When selecting a frame for a painting as special as Richards’, it is not only important to consider the historical period within which the painting was produced, but also the artist’s unique aesthetic. In this instance the finely detailed elements of the frame complement the subtle oil. Additionally, the frame must accentuate and enhance the color themes present, and our particular gilding was finished in a manner to intensify the cool tones of grays and blues used. Of course, scale of the frame in relation to the size of the painting is also considered.
MW: Can you tell me more about your gifting program? When did it begin? Have you gifted many frames?
SM: We are pleased to be able to elevate the historical and aesthetic programs of some of the most admirable institutions across the country through our gifting program and have so far awarded over 50 recipients with frames and frame restoration as of December 2016, representing over five million dollars of Eli Wilner grants distributed.
MW: Is there anything else about the frame or the program you would like to share?
SM: In addition to our charitable mission, Eli Wilner and Company pledges to accommodate the spending parameters of non-for-profit institutions on a per-case basis to keep our historically accurate replica frames and frame restoration services accessible. In this way, we hope to perpetuate scholarship in the arts, and it is our mission and our pleasure to assist museums in this worthy cause, both domestic and international, especially during these difficult times.
Linda S. Ferber, William Trost Richards: American Landscape & Marine Painter, 1833-1905 (Brooklyn, N. Y.: Brooklyn Museum, 1973) p. 369-372.
Carol M. Osborne, William Trost Richards: True to Nature: Drawings, Watercolors, and Oil Sketches at Stanford University (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2009) 94-109.
*To find out more about Eli Wilner & Company please visit the company website.