Thoughts on Framing, April 2009

—Bunny Bowen

Like most artists, I find the greatest joy in the studio process, actually bringing an idea into concrete existence through many steps of hands-on work.

Sometimes an idea will stall, perhaps a piece will be brought to a certain point and then laid aside for a year or two. New and divergent paths may beckon, but even as I follow alternative directions all of these fertile seeds still lie in my subconscious, awaiting a favorable environment for germination. This I have seen during forty years of living in the high desert, where an unusually wet season will bring an abundance of species not seen for decades. The tiny seeds were there all along, dormant in the dark dry earth.

At some point I have a deadline… a show, a publication, something which requires the tying up of loose ends and putting work out for “the public.” I spread the pieces out on a table, contemplating each one as I decide how (and whether) to present it. Does it express what I intended, what should the title be, does it relate to other pieces in a series, is it ready to frame or does it need something else?

My framing process is slow, beginning with mounting the silk or cotton images. Usually I sew each one to foam core board, a meditative act during which I think about how the piece began, the ideas behind it, how long it grew before I ever set brush to hot wax. Perhaps it came from a beloved place accessible now only in memory, or maybe from a “cause” or event or experience which moved me.

Each stitch, each decision in the framing process is mindful. I prefer simple metal frames, with a conservation mount and similar double matting, which helps a group of pieces to hang well together. Each is protected with UV screening glass. Otherwise, one may as well make marks in the sand at low tide.

Well, in the greater sense that is what we all do, but I’d like to think some of these pieces will outlast me, at least.

My husband works with me in this part of the process, cutting mats and putting frames together with the expert precision and patience only an engineer would have. It is his loving gift to me, and one which I have cherished over a long career.

He is the photographer too, a key part of the documentation and presentation of this work. Sometimes we both get carried away with the framing and forget to photograph first: very hard to do this once all is under glass.

To switch from botanical to mammalian metaphor, perhaps one might think of the original inspiration as ovulation, then the recognition of it and decision to act on it as fertilization, the planning and actual growth of the piece through hands-on process as gestation, and finally the framing as the birth of the piece. (Does that make my husband the midwife?)

As he holds up the freshly framed piece, for both of us there is finally a moment of “Aha! This was worth it.”

This tiny creation is ready to begin life outside of my studio. May the world welcome it.