Stay Home! And organize your print collection.

Do you have a burgeoning collection of works on paper? A flat file full of prints you love but not enough wall space? Looking for another project to fill your quarantine time? If you answered yes to all of those questions, this could be a great opportunity to start organizing your collection and developing a strategy to enjoy an ever changing exhibit in your own home. By matting and framing objects in such a way that they can be rotated in and out of the same frames, you can get more prints on the wall while extending the life of your collection, giving it some much deserved rest from light that can damage paper and inks. 

The first step is to choose prints that can share frames. There are many ways to separate your prints into groups that make sense – artist, theme, genre – but the most important is size. Prints need to be of similar size to be able to fit in the same frame. Then you can work with a framer and/or conservator to properly mat your prints for both storage and display in what are called “presentation mats.” For general information on proper matting and framing of works on paper, see the American Institute for Conservation’s helpful handout on the topic. 

Presentation mats are the same as regular mats with an additional cover attached in such a way that it can be folded to the front for storage and to the back for display. When not in use, the prints can be stored in boxes or flat files and safely stacked on top of one another. Be sure to save labels and any other information important to the provenance of the prints.

Left: Drawing in sealed mat package   Right: Presentation mats and labels

For fragile works on paper that need more protection – drawings, friable media, lightweight papers – a sealed mat package can be a good option. Unlike the presentation mats where the glazing (UV filtering glass or plexiglass) and the extra backing board stay with the frame, a mat package includes the extra backing board and the glazing sealed with an acrylic tape around the edges. This protects the surface of the object and reduces the handling necessary to replace objects in frames.

Two works on paper in sealed mat packages that share the same frame

When it comes time to exchange one print for another, you can have a framer come to your home and do it for you, or with a few simple tools, you can do it yourself. If you have never framed an object on your own, it would be advisable to review the process with a framer or conservator first to become familiar with the process. While it is fairly straightforward, it is helpful to have a full understanding of how your particular frames work before trying it on your own.


Two matted prints that share the same frame

The system can work with metal or wood frames, glass or plexiglass and floating or over-matted prints. Two works that float can share a frame with spacers attached to properly space the object away from the surface of the glazing. When folding the cover over the a floated object, be sure to have a sheet of glassine or acid-free tissue to protect the surface of the print. 

Two floating prints that share the same frame with protective glassine sheet
On the wall!

Rotating your prints is a great opportunity to enjoy more of your collection while helping to preserve your works on paper by periodically taking them off display.

It’s a win-win for everyone!