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Carving And Gilding

CARVING AND GILDING, two allied operations which formerly were the most prominent features in the important industry of frame-making. The craftsmen who pursued the occupation were known as "carvers and gilders," and the terms still continue to be the recognized trade-name of frame-making, although very little of the ornamentation of frame-work is now accomplished by carving, and much of the so-called gilt ornament is produced without the use of gold. The trade has to do primarily with the frames of pictures, engravings and mirrors, but many of the light decorative fittings of houses, finished in "composition" and gilt work, are also entrusted to the carver and gilder. Fashion in picture frames, like all fashions, fluctuates greatly. Mouldings of the prevailing sizes and patterns are generally manufactured in special factories, and supplied in lengths to carvers and gilders ready for use. A large proportion of such mouldings, especially those of a cheaper and inferior quality, are made in Germany. What is distinctively known as a "German" moulding is a cheap imitation of gilt work made by lacquering over the surface of a white metallic foil. German artisans are also very successful in the preparation of imitation of veneers of rosewood, mahogany, walnut and other ornamental woods. The more expensive mouldings are either in wood (such as oak or mahogany), in veneers of any expensive ornamental wood, or real gilt.

A brief outline of the method of making a gilt frame, enriched with composition ornaments, may be taken as a characteristic example of the operations of the frame-maker. The foundation of such a frame is soft pine wood, in which a moulding of the required size and section is roughly run. To prevent warping the moulding is, or ought to be, made from two or more pieces of wood glued together. The moulding is "whitened up," or prepared for gilding by covering it with repeated coatings of a mixture of finely powdered whiting and size. When a sufficient thickness of the whitening mixture has been applied, the whole surface is carefully smoothed off with pumice-stone and glass-paper, care being taken to keep the angles and curves clear and sharp. Were a plain gilt moulding only desired, it would now be ready for gilding; but when the frame is to be enriched it first receives the composition ornaments. Composition, or "compo," is a mixture of fine glue, white resin, and linseed oil well boiled together, with as much rolled and sifted whiting added as makes the whole into a doughy mass while hot. This composition is worked in a hot state into moulds of boxwood, and so pressed in as to take up every ornamental detail. On its removal from the mould all superfluous matter is trimmed away, and the ornament, while yet soft and plastic, is laid on the moulding, and fitting into all the curves, etc., is fixed with glue. The ornamental surface so prepared quickly sets and becomes very hard and brittle. When very large bold ornaments are wanted for frames of unusual size they are moulded in papier maché. Two methods of laying on gold - oil-gilding and water-gilding - are practised, the former being used for frames broken up with enrichments. For oil-gilding the moulding is prepared with two coats of fine thin size to fill the pores of the wood, and afterwards it receives a coat of oil gold-size, which consists of a mixture of boiled linseed oil and ochre. When this gold-size is in a "tacky" or "sticky" condition, gold-leaf is laid on and carefully pressed over and into all parts of the surface; and when covered with a coat of finish-size the gilding is complete. Water-gilding is applied to plain mouldings and all considerable unbroken surfaces, and is finished either "matt" or burnished. For these styles of work the mouldings are properly sized, and after the size (which for "matt" is red in colour and for burnish blue) is dry the gold is laid on with water. Matt-work is protected with one or two coats of finish-size; but burnished gold is finished only by polishing with an agate burnisher - no size or water being allowed to touch such surfaces. The mitring up of frames, the mounting and fitting up of paintings, engravings, etc., involve too many minor operations to be noticed here in detail; but these, with the cutting and fitting of glass, cleaning and repairing pictures and prints, and similar operations, all occupy the attention of the carver and gilder.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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