At a time when paintings have appreciated more than real estate, frames come into the spotlight.

Burnished gold, silver and ornate copper frames line one side of the gallery. Across the room, beautifully framed works of art hang from a stark white wall. Leaning against another wall is a stunning 6 by 5 ft tapestry of Buddha stretched over a wooden frame. Everywhere I turn at Lakshana, art meets the eye. H. Madhu, proprietor, Lakshana Art Gallery and Picture Framers, tells me that they have been framers since 1984. “Our business isn’t simply putting together four frames,” he says. “Our job is to suggest the best ways to preserve a work of art.” For instance, an oil canvas, he says, should never be covered with glass; it should be allowed to breathe. The textures of a tapestry, similarly, are viewed better without glass.

Frames, however, do not always mean big or bulky. “In cases like this,” Madhu points to a large, stunning photograph, mounted and framed with a slim teak-wood frame, “the frame has to be unobtrusive. It should not draw attention away from the picture; it must only complement it,” Frames range from 0.5 to 3 inches, and come in a wide variety of material — teakwood, imported synthetic frames and custom-coloured frames. Prices range from Rs.150 for a postcard-sized print to Rs.10, 000 for a gorgeous 8 by 4 feet frame. “We have nearly 200 moulds at any time, and we keep changing them every three months,” says Madhu.

“We have won the trust of patrons because of the knowledge accrued over the years,” says Madhu. If an inexperienced person were to handle an expensive piece of work, say a lithograph or watercolour, he might paste it down, in which case it will lose its authenticity and value. “We even personally hang the framed pieces on the customer’s wall to ensure that it’s done the right way,” he smiles. For large orders, Lakshana staff visits the site to match frames with the flooring and suggest options for mirrors.

Lakshana’s Latha George tells me that the shop has also framed needlework, dried butterflies, carpets, autographed jerseys, mirrors, gold coins, tiles, medals and certificates. The trick is to see that the framing adds drama as well as preserves the piece for posterity.

To extend life, Madhu says it is important to inspect old paintings if they have been hanging on the wall for a while. “Go over the frame with a magnifying glass to see if moisture or insects are attacking it. If so, it needs to be stopped before it spreads.” This could involve fumigation, using termite-treated hardwood and acid-free mounts. “Sometimes, when we reframe an old Ravi Varma print that has sequins and cloth sewn on to it, we request the customer to be present. If it has not been preserved properly, the whole thing can simply crumble,” points out Latha.

“Paintings have appreciated more than real estate,” says Madhu. And that makes it all the more important to preserve and display a piece of art perfectly.

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