By Alan Yaffe, president of Peterboro Matboards, Inc.
There are a wide variety of matboards available today. The one kind that protects art and photography the best? 100% cotton matboards.
For years, cotton boards–also known as “rag” boards–were the only matboards available for fine framing.
(Why the term “rag”? Long before wood pulp became the primary ingredient in the production of paper, cotton rags collected and sold to paper mills were essential for paper production.)
“Museum” boards appeal to the most discerning eyes.
Cotton matboards, though offered in a limited color palette, have long been the top choice of museums and conservators. That’s why they’ve become commonly known throughout North America as “museum” boards. Our own Peterboro museum matboards contribute greatly in displaying some of the world’s finest artwork in the U.S.’s most prestigious museums: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, J. Paul Getty Museum, Norman Rockwell Museum, the Library of Congress, and others.
Made from an annually renewable resource.
Why use 100% cotton “museum” matboards for your personal framing projects? One excellent reason: Cotton is an annually renewable resource. When harvested, it poses far less of a burden on the environment than other material. Large forests that serve as ecosystems for countless inhabitants aren’t destroyed in the production of cotton as they are in the processing of wood. Cotton doesn’t need to be shipped over land, then mechanically shredded and treated with chemicals the way logs do. And cotton is naturally acid-free, so the processing required to produce the necessary quality of alpha cellulose is cut in half.
For professional art collectors, worth every cent.
During my time as a framer, I worked in a shop to which expensive works of art were brought to be framed. Our clients rarely asked the price of framing. Rather, their main concern was that the framing be done properly, and that the highest level of preservation quality be adhered to. It became my obligation to ensure that their art would look the same in 100 years as it did the day I framed it. Instinctively, I always used museum boards, which have been proven to stand the test of time. No other matboards protect artwork so well. It’s no wonder cotton garments 3,000 years old have been found in Egyptian tombs completely intact. Acids simply don’t decay cotton as they do other materials.
Why are the colors of museum boards so limited?
Curators of the most prestigious collections gravitate toward the simple elegance of museum boards so that the art remains the focus. Additional color can only detract from their goal. When was the last time you were in an art gallery and saw a red mat around a Picasso drawing, or a green mat with a Chagall watercolor? Cotton boards of decidedly neutral colors are a simple and elegantly understated framing style.
Solid, consistent color throughout.
A unique trait of cotton matboards is their solid composition. Consistent, unbroken color right up to the edges of the image means one less design element competes with the art for the attention of the viewer. Thickness of museum boards is expressed in layers, or “plys,” with 4-ply (.06 inches in thickness) being standard. Like many custom picture framers, I’ve become a fan of using double-thick, or 8-ply (.120 inches) museum boards. They add depth and elegance to the presentation of the framed piece with minimal distraction.
Excellent, but challenging.
Cotton matboards are a challenge to produce. Not all manufacturers can make them. Specialized equipment is required. The investment is significant. At Peterboro, we’re fortunate to have the machines needed to make cotton matboards. Cotton has a tendency to crease during the manufacturing process as the plies make their way through dozens of steam rollers. In clothing, cotton is great for soaking up and drawing perspiration away from the body on a hot summer day, but this same property becomes a challenge in the production of matboards. An enormous amount of heat is needed to release the moisture cotton soaks up during the manufacturing process.
In summary: For your personal framing projects, you simply can’t go wrong using museum matboards. Their great preservation qualities and classic elegance are well worth it.