Gildedfarmer's Journal

A Gilder and Framemaker living and working in Maine writes about projects in the studio and life around the farm

The canvas floater frame: from Modern to Present Day

     What is commonplace today as a framing option for contemporary artists first made its appearance on the fine art scene in the mid twentieth century. The canvas floater frame transitioned  from the Platform Frame as seen around this work by Stuart Davis in the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut 

Stuart Davis Platform Frame

Stuart Davis with Platform frame

 From the Platform Frame of the 1940s we see the rise of the use of linen liners with thin outer frames such as this Robert LaHotan oil on canvas recently on view at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art.  

Robert LaHotan

Landscape by Robert LaHotan (1927-2002)

    Around the same time that artists began using canvas floater frames, they also used thin strips of strapping to edge  canvasses. Sometimes painted, sometimes left natural–this option was chosen by some mid-century artists out of a need to economise and more often as a deliberate effort to go against the pretension of using large or ornate frames. 

strapping frame by james fitzgerals

This is an example of an elegant version of a strapping frame made by gilder and artist James Fitzgerald(1899-1971) for his painting,"Frank Pierce, 1968" This frame is in 22karat gold leaf on red clay

The welded aluminum floater frame was one of the first to become commonly used by mid-century artists looking for a canvas floater frame which gave the visual space between the painting and the frame they got with the linen liner, but without the distraction of fabric or color.  Here again is an image taken at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art of an early welded aluminum floater frame. 

John Heliker

John Heliker (1909-2000) Maine Kitchen 1965

 The welded aluminum frame was popularized in the 1950s  by Robert Kulicke and his business partner Gene Witten. 

 Side note:  Here is a link to an interesting article on another weblog about the developer of the aluminum sectional frame.  Many think  that Robert Kulicke and his partner were the ones responsible, but as it turns out, Donald P.  Herbert  holds the first patents.  

 Today artists have an unlimited selection of finishes to choose from for their paintings.  A Street Frames in Boston offers welded steel floater frames.  Small Corporation in Western Massachusetts offers welded aluminum and steel floater frames. 

And then there’s my business, Artifacts, which offers a seemingly endless variation of canvas floater frames. Most of our frame profiles can be converted to become a canvas floater frame.   I write this shameless bit of self-promotion because we have served so many artists and designers with so many unique floater frames I thought it would be great to share some of the selections as food for the imagination.  The simple “L” shaped floater frame design itself can be finished in natural or stained wood.  The face can be gilded and the shadows and sides can be painted or stained.  These simple yet elegant designs really make a painting stand out.   

   I refer to standard size floater frames for canvasses which are on stretchers 3/4”  inch thick and to heavy-duty floater frames for canvasses which are on stretchers 1 1/2” thick.  We make all our frames from scratch, milled and finished in our Farmingdale, Maine workshop using traditional gilding and finishing techniques.  Our painted finishes are in either Japan colors, Old Village Latex or Milk paint finishes.  Our stained finishes use aniline dyes.  For natural wood finishes we use domestic woods only; ash, walnut, oak, cherry, maple for example.    Sometimes the actual thickness of  paintings vary, so we like to measure each painting—some stretchers are custom-made and do not match the standard or heavy-duty depths  I listed above.  Some artists paint on masonite or birch plywood panels.  We either float them as they are or we cradle them with strainers we build to match.  An image below of a painting by Nicole Duennebier is an example of how we float a painting which is not cradled but is painted on 1/4” thick masonite.  

9-2 antique silver floater frame

2'' wide cove floater frame in antiqued aluminum leaf

stained floater frame

heavy duty canvas floater frame in a deep mahogany stain

nicole duennebier floater
painting on 1/4” masonite panel by Nicole Duennebier framed in a float. Frame style is a wide Tray with gold metal leaf on the outer height and painted a raw umber mixed to match the palette
hicks frame as floater

This is a Hicks corner frame in white we built as a floater for this painting on a sheet of aluminum

matt welch floater
heavy duty canvas stretcher floater frame in aluminum leaf toned to a warm finish. The sides were painted a seafoam green to harmonize with the painting by Matt Welch
A-Mod antiqued gold floater frame

Our A-Mod antiqued gold metal leaf frame converted into a deep canvas floater frame

reverse swan in gold

Reverse swan floater frame in antiqued gold metal leaf

standard floater b/g
antiqued gold metal leaf with black sides around a standard depth canvas


std floater hg antiqued silver
Our canvas floater for standard depth canvasses finished in an antiqued aluminum leaf with black sides




3 comments on “The canvas floater frame: from Modern to Present Day

  1. Gail
    May 11, 2012

    thank you. i’ve even continued the image ’round the side. i’ll be in touch….

  2. gildedfarmer
    May 7, 2012

    Gail: There is no rule of thumb to follow. It all depends on the painting style and technique, the floater frame the artist chooses, and the overall desired aesthetic. I ask artists to think about their work and think about how the painting might look when someone approaches it from the side. Some artists work so cleanly that to have drips or white gesso or raw canvas showing,even from the slightest angle, it is distracting and we end up painting the sides. You don’t always have to use black. I’ve painted the sides orange, brown, white, etc. to harmonize with the image.

  3. Gail
    May 7, 2012

    Does one have to paint the sides of the canvas to look right in these frames?

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