Western Art

The Art of Display

Lyn St. Clair painting above fireplace

Western art is rustic by nature. That’s why it blends nicely into any ranch house, bunkhouse, secluded retreat or remote line cabin. Well-displayed art, however, makes a bold statement about you and your home.

Lyn St. Clair painting above fireplace
Mantles are often a living room’s centerpiece and the perfect place to showcase a large piece of art. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

“Art creates ambiance,” says Nicole Todd, owner and director of Visions West Galleries in Livingston and Boz­eman, Montana, and Denver, Colorado. “It injects character into your home: I like a home where the art keeps your eyes moving around the space. It has a dialogue throughout the home.”

Several factors contribute to this conversation, including matting, framing, grouping, lighting and selecting the per­fect spot to display your art. If such decisions have stymied you to the point you’ve slid your collection under a bed or stuffed it in the closet, pull it out and wipe off the dust. Here, Todd offers her advice on framing and the do’s and don’ts of creating gallery-type displays in your home. Plus, she shares ways to keep your collection in mint condition.

Western art painting hanging in a large open space.
Expansive walls allow large pieces plenty of breathing room. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

Frame Games

Creating an attractive display starts with framing your art, which includes selecting a frame, mat and glass. Framing serves two primary functions: enhancing and protecting a piece of artwork. “It should integrate the artwork and area in which you’ll hang the piece;” Todd says. That’s why you should find a reputable framer who uses only archival products. Following are Todd’s tips for selecting a frame, glass and mat.

Pick a complementary style. The two most-commonly used frame materials are wood and metal. Todd says that wooden frames create a rich, refined, well-made look that augments any painting, while metal frames are typically best for photography. Keep in mind, she adds, period art should be framed according to the era it depicts, while contemporary art can go into several options.

Keep it simple. “Don’t let the frame [or mat] draw atten­tion away from the artwork or overpower it;” Todd advises. “Remember, the art should dictate the frame, not vice versa.” If your painting is on a canvas, Todd says it might not require a frame. The clean lines and simplicity of a frameless canvas often look great on a wall. As with framing, avoid overkill with your matting. Todd often opts for double, white-on-white mats for both black­ and-white and color photography. To accent a painting, pastel or watercolor, she recommends a simple, quarter-inch mat in a color from the piece.

Get the right glass. The type of glass you choose plays a key role in protecting your piece, as well as allowing someone to clearly see it. “Works on paper, including photography, should go under some sort of glazing due to their fragile nature;’ Todd says. Glazing refers to glass with a filtration that forms a protective barrier between the art and harmful outside elements; several options exist. Museum glass, or non-glare glass, has a matte finish and has been etched to diffuse reflective light, which helps prevent glare. Ultraviolet glass has a special coating that helps protect art from the damaging and irreversible affects of UV rays. Some brands of UV glass come in reflection-control varieties . Plexiglas is lightweight and won’t break like glass, making it great in high-traffic areas, but it scratches easily. Also, don’t use window cleaner on Plexiglas or it could cause crazing (fine cracks) over time.

Use only archival, acid-free products. This applies to the matting, backing, linen tape used to adhere the work to the matting, and some types of UV glass. Such material won’t alter or damage your work over the long term.

Western art hanging above an antique desk.
Art creates ambiance in your home and speaks volumes about your style and heritage. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

Display Do’s and Don’ts

Do make a plan. Draw the sizes and shapes of your artwork on craft paper, and cut them out. Tape these templates to the wall, and step back so you can visualize the scale and overall arrangement. Rearrange the paper pieces until you’re satisfied with the display. Then, mark in pencil where each piece should hang on the wall.

Don’t match furnishings. Todd emphasizes not hanging a painting in a specific area simply because it matches the furnishings. Doing so dilutes the impact of the piece, and you want it to stand out on its own. Instead, pick pieces that fit the area’s ambiance and that complement, or even contrast, the furniture, drapery and wall color. “This isn’t to say you can’t put art on colored walls,” Todd adds. “Dark wall colors can really showcase a painting.”

Select works of scale. Select pieces that don’t overwhelm an area or get lost in the space. “A large painting in a small sitting room might feel a bit like an elephant in a Volkswagen Bug,” says Todd, “just as a small painting on a giant mantle may seem ridiculously small.” The same goes for sculptures.

Strive for balance. This helps your eyes naturally move around the display. Awkward arrangements to avoid include long rows of art and hanging pieces together that have very different pallets or contrasts.

Don’t lineup the edges of your frames with doorways, window frames or bookshelves. Doing so will look contrived, Todd says. Instead, stagger the edges to create depth and interest.

Hang art at eye level. The most common display-destroyer is hanging art too high, Todd says. A rule of thumb is to mount a piece about 62 inches from the floor to the center of the frame, and adjust to your personal preference from there.

Don’t place sculptures in a corner. Sculptures are three-dimen­sional pieces, thus are best displayed in an open, well-lit area where they can be seen from all angles.

Allow wide-open wall space. “Give medium to large pieces space to breathe;” Todd advises.”It’s okay to group small pieces together, but also give that grouping plenty of room to stand on its own.”

Don’t hang artwork in dusty or humid areas, or in direct sunlight. Dust, humidity, UV light and temperature changes are detrimental to artwork, even if it’s in a protective frame. Because of this, avoid displaying valuable pieces in the kitchen, basement, garage or bathroom, and always close the shades or curtains when nobody is home to prevent fading. Also avoid displaying pieces near open fireplaces and radia­tors, because soot and dust can soil and discolor the artwork, and fluctuating temperatures can cause canvases to ripple or cockle. Hanging artwork in rooms with interior walls, rather than outside walls, provides a more stable environment. Todd likes to put nice pieces in bedrooms, offices and living rooms-any place you spend a lot of time and the artwork won’t be exposed to harmful elements. She also likes to display art in unexpected areas.”It’s like finding a little treasure;” she says.

Illuminate your collection. Highlighting your art in soft, dif­fused light is key to achieving an effective display. Avoid harsh spotlights or lamps that hang from frames, because they tend to cast hotspots that compromise a painting’s visual and structural integrity. Instead, allow strategically placed, indirect, incandes­cent or natural light to gently bathe your art.
Select low-wattage bulbs and use a dimmer switch to adjust the light to a safe and comfortable viewing level. Todd recom­mends using half-silver bulbs, as they create a circular light with minimal reflection. When lighting a painting, position the light source so that it doesn’t create a harsh shadow from the frame. To add dazzle and depth to a sculpture, place the light in an area that breaks up and “dances” with the sculpture’s surface.

Change your displays. Rotating your artwork, and even allowing it to “rest” in a dark, climate-controlled area, is a good way to help preserve the piece.

Sculpture by Joe Beeler
Sculptures are best displayed in an area where they can be viewed from various angles. Photo by Lynn Donaldson.

Rooms with a View

The main reason you purchase a piece of art should be because you love it and everything it represents. In spite of the fragility of artwork and all the decisions that come with displaying it, resist the urge to tuck it away. Make it a well-preserved design element in your home that you can see, share and interact with daily for many years to come. “”-

This article was originally published in the July 2007 issue of Western Horseman.

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