Recently in Case Studies Category

by Brooks Ann

ba first photo.JPG

Much of our business at Frames by Edward Wright comes from local art collectors who want to frame their special collections in unique heirloom quality frames.  Often after a collector orders a frame from us, they are so happy with the results that they come back to us again when they add more art to their collections.

Once a customer starts to trust us with customizing, the true collaboration begins.  Recently, I got an order from one of our retailers who works with a collector that I've customized a few frames for in the past.  He had recently purchased this painting by an up and coming artist while travelling in Paris.  He was thrilled with the frames that we had customized for him in the past and was happy to order a one-of-a-kind Frames By Edward Wright frame for his new work of art.

Our customer consulted with the collector and he chose a few of our samples as inspiration guides for finishes and carves that he liked.  He liked the uniqueness of the finish 233 on our sample #4713.

sample 4713.jpg

This distressed sample features 12K gold with a combed panel.  He requested that the undercoat be changed from black to red.

He told our customer that he wanted a 4-inch custom corner carve.  The carve sample that he was drawn to was the leaf carve on our sample #5159.


With the painting in his possession, our retailer made an appointment to come by our workshop to consult directly with me for this unique order.  I was told that the collector loved the frames I had made for him in the past and that he trusted me to use my expert opinion to create a frame perfect for this piece. 

I was happy to accept the challenge.

I must admit that I was a little confused as to his sample choices for this particular work of art.  Finish 233 is mostly colored with bright yellow clay with raw sienna casein.  The piece didn't really have yellow or raw sienna tones in it at all.

The carve inspiration was also a bit perplexing.  The painting is a very industrial scene, yet the carve features very graceful leaves. 

I decided that since he said that he trusted me, I would use my expert opinion to make some custom changes that will really make the painting shine.

The frame was to be crafted from our SS molding.  I came up with a brand new carve for this molding keeping the painting and the leaf inspiration in mind.  I created a very regular and industrial looking version of a leaf carve to highlight the angular streets, buildings and windows.

ba corner carve.JPG

For the finish, I used the requested red undercoat with 12K gold.  Yet, I changed the raw sienna casein to a custom tan with a hint of purple to bring out the colors of the streets and buildings.  The combing lightly revealed the original yellow underneath.  It was finished with a custom dust color also hand-mixed from colors within the piece.

ba final photo.JPGThe customer loved it and was happy that he trusted me to create this special frame!

An Inside Look...


Artistic Edge

By Maria Johnson

Photography by Jessie Gladin-Kramer

Blending ancient practices with innovative approaches, Edward Wright and his artisans craft frames worthy of the objects they hold.


For a guy who makes frames for a living, Edward Wright spends a lot of time thinking outside the box. He tinkers endlessly with new finishes. He personally delivers his frames to retailers, seeking input on ways to improve. And his process for interviewing an office manager won't be found in any textbook.

But his restless and innovative ways are largely responsible for the success of his wholesale business, Frames by Edward Wright, which makes handcrafted, gilded frames using Old World techniques and materials.

'The pride is there'

Wright works with three other artisans in an airy shop in an old textile mill in Hillsborough. The space is plain. Ancient wood floors chalky with gesso. Racks of raw-wood molding. Carving samples attached to the wall. Stout worktables darkened by years of shellac and glaze
drips. Tired armchairs resting on a stair landing, the site of staff meetings.

Wright and his artisans build frames from scratch, using materials and tools that have been around for hundreds of years. Basswood molding. Chisels. Gesso. Tinted-clay paint. Gold leaf. Squirrel-hair brushes. Agate-tipped burnishing tools. Shellac made from secretions of the female lac bug.

They use old techniques and materials not because they're trying to make their frames look old but because the older materials and techniques suit their work. For example, gold leaf adheres better to clay paint mixed with glue than it does to acrylic paint. Shellac, which is made with alcohol, can be removed with alcohol; polyurethane finishes cannot.

"Almost every step of our process is reversible," says artisan Brooks Ann Camper. "If you get down the road, and in the end, it did not turn out the way it needed to, you can go back."

Relatively few shops make frames from scratch -- a practice called closed-corner framing because the corner seams are invisible -- and Wright's business is even rarer because each frame is done by one artisan.

"The pride is there," he says. His artisans sign and date their frames. "The ownership is so intense, I have a really hard time even making suggestions."

Peace within simplicity

The solitary devotion of a skilled artisan appealed to Wright when he started exploring frame-making in his early 20s. He was working on a degree in religion and classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but he already had ditched the idea of becoming a preacher.

"I was called out of the ministry," says Wright, 60. "God said, 'No.'"

About the same time, Wright went to a friend's garage and nailed together a honey-colored wood frame for a piece of stitchery that his wife made for his sisters. The crewelwork hot pink flowers now hang on Wright's office wall.

"I did this and fell in love with framing," Wright says of his earliest work. "It was kind of strange."

Strange because Wright was only vaguely familiar with woodworking. He swung hammers for his father, Eden builder Homer Wright, but the work hardly flipped his creative switch.

He wasn't especially artistic but loved the simplicity of framing.
Intellectually woozy from years of abstract thinking in religion and
philosophy classes, he found peace in the finite and immediate nature of
making something with his hands.

To learn the business, he visited factories where frames were handmade. "In New York, they'd have one craftsman doing the carving, one doing the joinery, one doing the gesso, one doing gilding, one doing the burnishing. They'd segment it out."

Then Wright found a Durham man who did every step by himself. "I was captivated by the whole process," Wright says.

Independent nature

In 1973, Wright teamed with artist Bev Dixon, and they framed pieces on Dixon's back porch in Pittsboro. A year later, they started a business called Framemakers.

For years, Wright did custom framing while teaching himself how to gild and finish. "He would have gold leaf in his eyebrows and shellac stains on his hands," says Verna Jarrell, who worked with Wright for years. "Once he got hooked on gold leafing, I think there was no turning back."

A fountain of ideas, Wright offered classes on gilding and antiquing, something no one in the area was doing at the time. He closed the shop on Wednesday afternoons so his team could work uninterrupted. When they came to an impasse, Wright brought in a psychologist to help them with their issues.

Wright also employed his blind twin sisters.

"He always tried to include people who were marginalized," Jarrell says. "He's a very democratic fellow. He sees the value in all people."

A few years ago, Wright helped one of his children, Allison, who was born with Down Syndrome, establish a small business called FrameWright. Using a computerized carving machine, Allison, 25, makes wooden mirror frames and custom pieces for woodworkers and furniture companies. A manager runs the business side.

He continued his innovative ways when he launched Frames by Edward Wright. He invited potential employees to all-day workshops where they made 8-by-10-inch frames. Everyone who works for him should know how to make a frame, Wright reasons.

It was an unconventional but refreshing approach to interviewing, says Wright's office manager Arin Lowe, who was hired after she completed her frame. "Nothing about this job is typical," she says. "I've worked the 9-to-5 job. This job has a lot more freedom and is more enjoyable. To go back to a different kind of office -- I don't think I could."

Wright's employees -- they're all women -- thrive on the independent nature of their work. Artisan Donna Tabor sniffed out Wright's shop after reading a newspaper story about his work. A stay-at-home mom who had just taken a furniture-finishing class, Tabor hoped to find flexibility in frame-making. Wright agreed to let her work at home.

"He's open to new ideas and the freedom to work the way you want to," Tabor says.

Fellow frame-maker Brooks Ann Camper makes custom wedding gowns on the side. That's fine with Wright.

"He's excited when people are creating things and when people are doing things they love," Camper says.

Earlier this year, Wright adopted a suggestion from Camper. He created a website to sell directly to artists and photographers.

"I thought it was a great idea," Wright says. "That's the challenge of this business -- to make sure things like that can happen."

In pursuit of perfection

Because of their expertise, Wright and his artisans get some challenging orders from retail shops. A recent order involved a nine-foot-tall German opera poster done in 1898 in the Art Nouveau style. For that, Camper built an unusually deep, reinforced frame with a tarnished silver finish. The collector loved it.

The shop's handiwork also surrounds pieces in the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Ackland Art Museum at UNC, and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, as well as the homes of private collectors.

"We have a number of people who come and look at our stuff, and one of the things they often comment on is the quality of the framing," says Craufurd Goodwin, a Duke University economics professor and Hillsborough art collector. "He's just extraordinarily talented, and he has an equally extraordinary staff working with him."

Goodwin says he can walk into an auction house and quickly spot pieces framed by Wright. "His use of color is special," Goodwin says. "It's an openness to using color reflective of the palette of the piece."

Wright works hard for compliments like that. He always fiddles with finishes, trying to come up with something no one has seen before. When he finds it, he's rarely satisfied for long.

"He's not the kind of person who says, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Camper says. "He's the kind of person who says, 'It's perfect. We have to change it immediately.'"

Wright concedes he's hard to please, always nudging himself and those around him to improve. "I think that's part of an artistic temperament," he says.

Consider the distressed, antiqued gold finish that he has been chasing for 15 years. He ran into technical problems. Recently, his artisans came up with a way to make the finish work.

"Have I gotten what I want?" Wright asks. He hesitates. There's cheerfulness in his voice. "I'll probably, in the next couple of years, say, 'Let's do it this way.'"

Reprinted with permission by Our State magazine

Edward's Corner

| No Comments

Money Talks

Several weeks ago I was sitting down with members of a family business talking money. We were focused on the bottom line when to my surprise the CFO  mentioned that what he values about looking at the numbers is that it helps to direct him toward what is truly interesting  in a business. The numbers are not merely the bottom line but a way of seeing. They can be a way to become more aware of the human and creative aspects of our work. Overly concerned about what we needed to do to maintain our  financial success, I found his view a welcome relief.

Following the money can be a way  of bringing  value to our work at the shop. The cost of labor and materials and operations is the ground, the reality of our work. To look at these details is to pay careful attention to what we do, what we have and what we use.  We can be anxious about ways to make the finances work and seek to control our future or we can observe what is working and  learn from  our exploration. We can discount or avoid what we need to charge or we can use our pricing as a way to affirm the value of how we hand craft a frame and serve our customers. Paying attention to how we work with money can be an opportunity to  better conserve our resources   and to value our talents and our labor. Putting a price on our service is a way to affirm to our customers  the value of our service. 

Money talks. 


What's In A Frame?

| No Comments

What distinguishes a handcrafted frame?

Closed corner picture frames are the ultimate in framing joinery. Our frames are made 'one of a kind. one at a time' to specific dimensions as specified by our customers. Each of our artisans has years of experience creating frames of fine craftsmanship. This is how it's done...frame2.jpg

The strength of splined joinery

On each mitred frame corner we route a slot and insert a wooden spline. We find the strength of this traditional joinery technique vastly superior to the standard nailed picture frame joint.

Meticulous surface preparation

Each natural wood finish requires scraping and sanding with papers of different grit levels. This attention to detail is critical to reveal the distinctive character of the wood.

The versatility of composition

Available in hundreds of patterns, prepared ornaments can be steamed and applied to our frames. This allows us to create unique frame designs at a reasonable price.

Skilled hand carving

Our highly skilled artisans cut the appropriate ornamentation into the frame by hand.

The ability of gesso surfaces

Traditional gesso is a combination of rabbit skin glue and whiting which can be applied only when warm. The preparation and application of gesso is basic to the overall design of the frame. Areas to be given a highly burnished look must be painted with several coats of gesso and meticulously sanded and polished. We may also sponge or stipple the gesso onto areas that will be matte gilded to add texture and interest.

Custom undercoating

We paint the gesso layers with various colors to compliment the artwork. Depending on the effect desired, these colors may be spattered, stippled or wiped onto the surface.

Unique applications of metal leaf

We apply an oil-based size on the colored surface to accept aluminum, brass, copper or variegated leaf. These can be applied evenly or, for more texture, they can be crushed or cracked over the surface. One of our specialties is the combination of different leaves to achieve a unique iridescence.

The character of tarnishing

We achieve some very interesting results using chemicals that react with copper, brass or silver leaf to enhance aspects of the artwork.

The elegance of genuine gold leafing

First, we brush very thin coats of rabbit skin glue mixed with clay onto the frame. This 'bole' acts as an adherent for the leaf. After the clay dries, our artisans float water onto small areas of the frame to activate the glue, which then accepts the gold leaf. Using a wide squirrel hair brush, thin sections of 12k, 16k, 22k gold or silver are carefully applied.


We create a mirror-like polish on carved or raised areas of the frame by burnishing the gold leaf with the rounded tip of an agate stone.

The art of patination

In patination, we use various finishing techniques to bring together the surface, undercoats and leaf in the way that best compliments the artwork. Patination is a process of reworking the finish through distressing, glazing, rubbing through the leaf, spattering, stippling, sponging on casein and dusting.

(photo courtesy of Gallery C)

Frames by Edward Wright artisan Brooks Ann wrote about the custom picture frame she designed to house a valuable Art Nouveau opera poster. Today, we'll begin to look in more detail at how this unique frame came together. Click to see how Brooks Ann designed the custom hand carving.

Frames by Edward Wright recently completed a custom frame which was featured in Carolina Home + Garden magazine. The frame was part of a luxurious condo in Asheville, NC, designed by interior designer Krista Washam LaBlue.

"The homeowner requested that the television set be hidden when not in use -- quite a challenge without introducing an entertainment center. LaBlue's solution was ingenious. A Séura television from CWB Technologies was integrated into a massive mirror over the mantle and surrounded by a custom 6-inch-deep frame by Blackbird Frame and Art."

Such a strong room design demanded a strong frame design. Our client, Blackbird Frame and Art, turned to Frames by Edward Wright. They specified a 5-inch wide moulding, CM-5. We added buildup to make a 6" deep frame that could accommodate the television behind the mirror. A deep cut was added to the top of the frame, for air venting. Tarnished silver leaf provided a subtle, beautiful finish. The result is a versatile technical solution which is simply an elegant mirror frame when the television is not in use.
Frames by Edward Wright recently completed this custom picture frame for a client in the Charlotte, NC area.
IMG_9180.JPGThe frame is based on our sample #5406, with extensive customization by the client to suit her specific needs. She changed the moulding to our SS, a 3-inch moulding, and modified the design of the hand carving. As the finishing touch she specified rounded corners. The client worked closely with our artisan Brooks Ann on her requested modifications, and even provided a detailed drawing, making this custom design a pleasure to create:
5355-sketch.jpg The frame is gilded in precious metals, with tarnished silver across most of the surface and 22k gold on the highlights. At 31" wide and almost 48" tall, this oversized frame is a unique creation which complements the artwork which will be placed inside it.

A Unique Order

| No Comments

by Brooks Ann

Recently, I got a call from one of our local retailers. She had a customer who needed a very special frame for a very special piece of art. Naturally, her first choice was to work with Frames by Edward Wright to create a completely custom frame.


The piece was a colorful Art Nouveau German Opera Poster from 1898 by Adolph Hohenstien which was approximately 9 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The customer liked our sample 5353 (with a tarnished sliver finish and our latium blue clay undercoat), but wanted a completely custom carve to complement the piece.


I was called in for a consultation to discuss the details of this unique order. When I arrived at our customer's shop, the huge piece took up almost their entire workroom! Due to the height restrictions of the room that the art will ultimately hang, the molding chosen could only be two and a half inches wide and the inside rabbet had to be cut deeper. We discussed the creation of a large asymmetrical Nouveau- inspired corner carve that would drape down the sides of the frame. After taking some photos, I truly became inspired by the beautiful piece and was excited to get started on the order.

IMG_9047.JPGI started researching Art Nouveau decorations, graphics and ornaments that had the same spirit as the piece itself as a starting point for the custom carve. I then cut the raw wood molding to size and began penciling, erasing, drawing, redrawing, and staring at the designs until I was satisfied with how it looked on the frame before carving. I usually carve frames by clamping it into a vice, but because this frame was so big, I clamped it to some tables and began to hand carve the custom design. After hours of hand chiseling, gouging and sanding, I finally had the frame carved enough to join the corners.

I joined the raw wood and added a buildup using the customer's custom dimensions. I created some custom braces to hold the frame in shape until the artwork and glass could be installed at our customer's shop. I carefully rounded each corner using a palm sander and finished the final details of the carve before the first coat of gesso was applied. I then continued our frame making process of gessoing, sanding, undercoating, water gilding the silver leaf, burnishing, tarnishing, antiquing, waxing and dusting this unique oversize frame.

The end result was stunning and a true collaboration between the customers and the artisan. For me, this was a 'dream order' that truly allowed me to create a 'work of art' to complement and house a work of art! The end-customer loved his custom frame and has since become a loyal customer of our retailer, customizing our frames for other works of art in his collection.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Case Studies category.

corner composition is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.