The art critic John Ruskin wrote, “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most. ” At Lowy Frame and Restoring Company, color enlivens the surface and texture of thousands of frames, which in turn enhances the mood and effect of the painting within.

To achieve various colors on gilded surfaces, we use patinas. A patina is a thin coat of tinted varnish applied gently over the gilded frame with a soft bristle brush and rubbed off with a cloth, resulting in a subtle coloration that mutes the gold’s sheen while fine-tuning its color to perfectly complement the palette of the art within.


Patinas are usually warm earth tones, such as yellow, tan, brown or red, although other colors, like the early 20th century’s gray casein, rose to prominence along with the au courant artistic movements.

Shown below are a variety of patinas applied to several different frame styles.

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For more information on Lowy’s framing services and our collection of more than 5,000 antique frames, please visit or call 212-861-8585.

Guide to Gilding: The Finish

Preparing an accurate historical reproduction frame is labor-intensive and can’t be rushed without compromising quality. Once the gold has been applied, Lowy’s team of gilders enters the home stretch: Burnishing, lacquering, and antiquing.

A frame can either be matte or polished to a fine, shiny finish. The process of polishing a gold leaf layer until it is shiny is called burnishing. The difference between a burnished frame and an un-burnished one is quite pronounced, as you can see from the examples below.

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The very shiny frames, such as those at the edges of this photo, are burnished. The frame at center right is matte.

As with carving or applying gold, burnishing can take a long time – two and a half hours are needed to complete even a small 25” x 24” frame! Burnishing can be done uniformly or in a decorative pattern. To burnish, we use an agate stone tool to apply pressure over the surface of the gold, and it becomes shiny.

After the gold is burnished, a piece of cloth is often rubbed over the frame, allowing the colored clay base to peek through. This thinning of the gold layer is called the rub through, and it makes the frame look authentic. The surface is then coated with a clear sealer such as shellac, which protects the gold, making it last longer and creating a smooth, aesthetically pleasing surface. After the sealer is dry, we have the option to apply a patina to the surface in burnt umber, raw umber, white or black. The patina makes the frame look as if it has aged over the years from a newly made object into a storied antique. We think such historical objects, even when they are imitations, give a room character and comfort. Our clients choose whether or not we apply a finish as well as what kind.

View on Vimeo.

This concludes our guide to gilding, but stay tuned for other topics in framing and fine art services! For more information about Lowy’s world-renowned frame reproduction abilities, along with our collection of 5,000 unique antique frames, please call 212-861-8585 or visit

Guide to Gilding: Preparing the Surface

Lowy’s antique and reproduction frames represent various historical periods from the 15th through 20th centuries. The process of creating a gilded reproduction frame starts with the entire frame designed on paper, which is then carved in wood. Wood is one of the most common and useful substrates for gilding because it is stable over time and because it is true to traditional techniques. In accordance with fashion, culture and custom, frame makers have worked in a variety of woods such as pine, poplar, oak and limewood. In the 19th century, the newly developed material called composition, a thick moldable mix of rabbit skin glue, whiting, linseed oil and rosin, gained popularity for its ability to mass produce ornament. Composition made it possible to make complex frames with many different designs because the ornament could be cast into molds and applied to the frame, instead of being hand carved.

If you have trouble seeing the above images, please click the pop-out button at the bottom right of the slideshow.

Even when elegantly carved, bare wood is irregular and must be smoothed before applying gold. First, we apply a layer of rabbit skin glue to ensure that bonds will form properly. Then, we brush on 10-12 coats of warm liquid gesso, a protective covering typically made from calcium carbonate or calcium sulfate, water, rabbit-skin glue and sometimes linseed oil. After the gesso dries, it is sanded. Next, we apply layers of traditional bole, a fine particle clay also mixed with rabbit skin glue. The bole, which is usually yellow, red or grey, will over time start to show its color through the gilding due to abrasion of the finish. When applying these base layers, gilders must balance even coverage with maintaining detail, keeping the original design intact. Sometimes this requires that we recut the design by carving back into the gesso layer to redefine or augment the ornamentation.

In this 17th century Italian frame, red clay is visible through the finish.
In this 17th century Italian frame, red clay is visible through the finish.

Lowy has facilities for antique frame reproduction, carving and gilding. That’s one of the reasons why we have been sought out for frame fabrication and restoration projects for such a long list of venues, ranging from government buildings to private collections and public exhibitions. If you would like more information, please ask! And stay tuned for the rest of our series on gilding.

Framing an Exhibition

Over the years, Lowy has often been called upon to frame a collection of works by a particular artist for various galleries and exhibitions.  This presents a unique framing challenge: how to frame each individual work of art while creating a cohesive presentation for the group of paintings.

Two such recent shows include Jacob Collins  and Shirl Goedike, both exhibited at Adelson Galleries on East 82nd Street in Manhattan.

Larry Shar mingles with Warren & Jan Adelson & guests at the Shirl Goedike opening.

With both shows, Lowy was able to provide frames for each work, which not only suited each painting itself, but also brought together the ambiance of the show and connected the works to one another.  As so aptly put by Larry Shar, President of Lowy, “The key to framing an exhibition of contemporary artists is to choose architecturally appropriate moldings that work in the space and on the art; with sympathetic patinas that compliment the artist’s palette making for pleasant viewing  and enhancement of the artwork”.

Have a look at some examples:

Photos by John Bigelo Taylor, Courtesy of Adelson Galleries, NY.

The next generation of Lowy: a framer is born.

Ben Shar, Brad’s son and Larry’s grandson, learns to burnish and gild at a demo by Wayne Reynolds.  His nursery school was here on a tour, and it was amazing how they responded!  Take a look through the photos and see for yourself.

The Lowy All Souls Tour

Just Folking Around…

You heard it right, Lowy is celebrating all things folk.  Come and visit Just Folk Frames: An Online Exhibition & Sale. Check out our unique selection of affordable folk frames from the extensive Lowy collection.

A Change of Taste Opening Night: a few select pictures

Continue reading A Change of Taste Opening Night: a few select pictures

A Change of Taste: From the Gilded Age to the Craftsman Aesthetic

We’re having a frame exhibition!  I think we’ve had maybe only one of these before, so get on down to Lowy to check it out!

The details:  the exhibition will chronicle the momentous change of taste in American picture frames from the mass-produced ornamentation of the 19th Century to the elegant artistry of the Arts & Crafts movement.  Many of the frames on display are signed and dated by their makers.  The exhibit is made up of frames primarily from Lowy’s extensive collection, as well as extraordinary frames from the collections of Edgar Smith, The Gill & Lagodich Gallery, NY and Gold Leaf Studios, Washington, D.C.

The frames will be on display at Lowy, 223 E. 80th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, NYC from January 24 – April 14, 2011.  The exhibition is open to the public Monday – Friday, 10am – 4pm.

Gilding 101

So, this is actually about an hour long video, not the five minutes you’ll get here. Eventually I will break up the full thing into individual lessons that you can check out at your own convenience. But for now, this is sort of a basic gilding overview by our master gilder, R. Wayne Reynolds. If you like it, check back soon and there will be a more detailed version.