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Where Did Picture Frames Come From Anyway?

Oct 15, 2007
When putting a photo in a frame, most people just grab one from their local big box store and slap their photo in it. Not many people give much thought to the origin of the picture frame and how much it has evolved from its humble beginning. Today most picture frames are mass produced from composites of wood or metal but picture frames started as works of art in and of themselves.

The practice of framing pictures began as soon as man started drawing them on cave walls. The earliest evidence we have of "frames" is on cave drawings dating from around the 2nd century BC. These rudimentary picture frames served to isolate and protect the art they surrounded. Picture frames resembling the ones we use today did not appear until the middle ages. Before frames were separate entities from the art they surrounded, the frame and painting would be produced on the same wall with the frame carved into the stone and the picture painted in the lowered middle surface. Eventually frames laboriously carved from wood made their debut. Artists in this period usually made the frames for their art themselves and as time went on the frames became more and more ornate. Artists were limited by the materials available to them and the earliest frames were embellished with gold or silver.

During the renaissance, furniture makers and wood carvers picked up the frame making trade. Picture frames began to evolve and took on different shapes and styles. Round and oval frames were seen for the first time as well as the use of veneer and inlay, reflecting the inspiration of the furniture maker. By this time frames were as highly regarded as the art they intended to protect and were often as expensive as the art itself if not more so.

By the 18th century new ways of manufacturing frames were developed that significantly reduced the amount of time it took to make a frame. However, with this innovation came the cheapening of picture frames because they could be produced so readily and with low cost materials. Frame makers began to use molds they filled with wood composite to quickly produce a frame. Many traditional frame makers were outraged that such inferior material was being used and that the frame had lost all of its integrity of craftsmanship. Many frame makers continued to produce frames of high quality wood by hand but the budding automation of frame production would make picture frames inexpensive and easily attained as the years went on.

Today you can still find frames carved by hand like they were originally made but mass produced frames made of metal and wood composite are much more common and cost efficient. However, if you search carefully, it is still possible to locate frames made by artisans who take the time to make each frame by hand. These artists often seek out natural materials for their creations.

The purpose of picture frames today remains the same as before, though, and they still serve to protect and enhance the photos displayed in them. Next time you look at the dizzying array of frames at the big box store, remember the artists that first produced frames and decide if you want to take advantage of the skill of artists who still take the time to create a masterpiece just for you.
About the Author
Kathy Page and her daughter, Casey, operate http://www.greatpictureframes.com which provides an opportunity to find unusual picture frames and photo albums not seen everywhere that express your creativity and style. Take a look!
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