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Art dealer and framing expert Susan Calloway on choosing and displaying art | Home Front

Feb 21, 2013

Art dealer and framing expert Susan Calloway has been providing an ever-more-extensive range of fine, affordable art and chic custom framing from her Georgetown gallery, Susan Calloway Fine Arts, for 20 years. She chatted with readers about choosing art, displaying art, collecting and framing.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Susan Calloway is a respected gallery owner in Georgetown who has a lot of advice to share with us. Send in your questions about art, framing art, displaying it and collecting it. She really knows it all and we are happy to have her on the chat today. Meanwhile, read my story today about shopping on Book Hill in Georgetown where Susan Calloway Fine Arts is located. Here it is. She has wonderful porcelains by Middle Kingdom inspired by ancient Chinese ceramics as well.

My living room has a long wall (about 25') that runs from the corner of the room to a doorway. I have lots of framed pieces I'd like to hang, but I'm overwhelmed by the size of the blank wall. How can I group/arrange my pictures coherently (they're pretty eclectic in terms of style, color, content)? The furniture along the wall consists of a reading chair in the corner, a floor lamp next to it, a side table and a long sideboard. Thank you!

Eclectic groupings are some of the most fun! I'm going to assume the sideboard is the main focal point of the wall, with the chair, lamp and table more tucked into the corner, in which case I would center the grouping of artworks over the sideboard. If there are so many pieces that they extend beyond the sideboard that is fine, I'd just use the center of the sideboard as the point from which you start and work out from there. Lay the artwork on the floor, starting with what you'd like in the center - probably one of the larger and/or stronger works - and start laying the other pieces around it, moving them  around until you get a pleasing, balanced composition - it doesn't have to be symmetrical, just balanced.  You might have to get up on a ladder to take it all in. The harder part is transferring that composition to the wall! Good luck.

Susan here.

Have you ever been? It's happening at the Dulles Expo Center this weekend and was wondering if would be worthwhile going.

Yes I have been there and you can pick up a lot of ideas. Do other chatters want to weigh in on this?


Which is more classic, a black frame or a silver (or nickel) frame? I'm going for whatever is most widely appealing since I like both equally. I've also seen some metal frames in a dark charcoal gray that I like, but I'm worried about matching if I can't find or buy more later.

You're right, they are both classic, so the choice is more a matter of what looks best with the art you're framing. Bear in mind that silver recedes and black makes a statement in and of itself. Matching will always be an issue over time, but black is more likely not to show as much difference.

Susan: I am young and am interested in starting a collection of art. Where do I begin and where can I find affordable pieces?

Big question. Start by going to museums and galleries and really getting an idea of what you like and what quality looks like before you buy anything. Once you have an idea, start going to shows at your local galleries, ask a lot of questions - never be afraid to ask questions . You'll soon see what the range of prices are and can start to make informed purchases.

Hi - I love making shadow boxes but I'm sure I could probably do a better job.....are you aware of local classes? I'm not sure that I'm always adhering things appropriately or safely (i.e. archival quality glass, etc). Thanks!

I don't know of any framing classes locally. The Smithsonian Associates Program used to have a wonderful course given by Hugh Phibbs of the National 
Gallery, but they no longer offer that course. I would be happy to answer any archival questions that you might have, or pass them along to Hugh if I don't have an answer.

Hi Susan, Can you offer some advise on selecting a frame. The painting I have is a rice paddie scene. It has blues, yellows and green. I would like the frame to look more modern. Thanks.

One of the first rules of framing is to look at the choices with the art, so I really can't recommend framing without seeing the art, or even knowing its size or if it is a canvas or work on paper. It sounds like a simple, flat gold or lemon gold frame - a nice, clean modern profile -  would work if it is a work on paper.

Does Susan recommend purchasing art from students? I recently toured an art school with my daughter and some of the pieces we saw were amazing.

Absolutely! I agree that there is some great stuff out there waiting to be discovered, and of course the prices are amazing as well. Just look closely to assure the qualiy of execution, although a good fine arts program should ensure that that would not be a problem.

Good morning. I have a lithograph that I found at a yard sale years ago that I recently found out is a true signed piece by Diego Rivera. I would like (need) to get it framed properly. Can you recommend a framer in the D.C./Maryland area? My sincere thanks

Congratulations - that's everybody's fantasy! And, of course I would recommend my gallery! We're known for our high-quality custom framing.

My vacation home is contemporary, and I love the look -- clean but not ultra modern, with neutral colors throughout. How would you recommend approaching adding interest with art on the walls? Some have suggested black and white; others say we could punch things up with pieces of color.

Personally I would find black and white on top of neutral a little boring, but then I love color. If you REALLY need to relax when you get away that might not be a bad thing, though. I would go for some color, but probably warm and soft, not too bright. Large color field abstract works might be perfect.

I can't get with and quite understand the trend of leaning framed artwork against the wall, one on top of the other so that the bottom piece is partially obscured by the top piece. What IS this trend? Check the Pottery Barn catalog for the visual. What ever happened to hanging the art on the wall? How does this arranging work?

I can't get with it either - I think it's silly, but looks good in catalogs. I would not recommend it in a home people actually live in - you'd be amazed how often those unhung artworks hit the floor.

Thanks so much for doing this chat! I have a great old cross stitch from my great-grandmother, but the usual matted-and-framed display doesn't work with my house at all. (The whole thing veers too much towards Americana at that point.) I was thinking of suspending it between two pieces of lucite as a way to modernize it, but are there other options I should be considering?

It is not archival to put lucite on both sides of the textile. What you could do is mount it on linen in a shallow lucite shadow box. We've done a lot of pieces like this and it looks great.

Hi Susan: I am intrigued by the Middle Kingdom porcelains. Where are they made and how expensive are they?

They are made in China in a factory owned by a local Georgetown couple, and they are amazingly inexpensive.

I own some watercolor paintings. Is it really necessary to have a mat cut for them, in addition to the frame and glass? Or can I simply "varnish" them somehow, or insert them directly into frames, and thus save myself some money by not matting them?

Oh,  you're asking a conservation framer such a question? Yes you need a mat if you care about the art! The glass should never lay directly on the art. If any moisture ever gets in there mold is likely to grow on the art, and often the art will end up adhering to the glass over time. This is a big no-no unless the art is worthless, but then why would you want to frame it? You could float mount the art and use spacers to keep the glass off of it, but that would not save any money. And you cannot varnish watercolors! The lesson here is that while works on paper are often less expensive than canvases, the cost of framing is almost invariably higher because there are so many more steps and materials involved when framing paper.

We have a small house and two small children. We're considering getting rid of our coffee table and putting a console table or bookshelf behind the table, both because of the space issue and the small children running into things issue. Any major negatives or positives we should be thinking about with this?

Hmmm. A bit confused here. I think a coffee table in front of a sofa is something that it's hard to live without for putting a cup of tea on or a newspaper. I don't think a console table or bookshelf would serve the same purpose.

If you are concerned about children running into your coffee table, consider getting an ottoman with a tray on top. Or a rounded corner table.

Hello - We are in the process of updating our tiny master bath. No windows. We just put in a beautiful carerra basketweave with grey dot floor, carerra sink, two large white medicine cabinets, and white beadboard 40" ish up the walls. The light blue we painted the walls is not working. There is not enough grey in it, and it is a bit too saturated. We selected antique pewter hardware and navy and porcelain blue solid monogrammed (white) towels. We want something softer and with a stronger grey tone within the blue. We will use BM bath paint Suggestions? Also, any suggestions for art to go with the more vintage theme and colors above? Don't want those posters adhered to board and glossed. Something small, but adding interest - not sure what to do in such a moist environment. Thanks!!

Tile and paint colors are not my territory, but the appropriate art is! If it is a bathroom that is really used and gets moist you cannot put any works on paper in it. I would suggest an oil or acrylic painting on canvas or panel - they will be much more resistant to moisture damage.

I have several landscape paintings dating from the 1800s. My grandparents had them in their home. However, the canvas on all the paintings is torn. Is there a "best practices" to obtain restoration services? I live near a large University with an Art College and am considering contacting them: perhaps an instructor could create a restoration project for a class?

That would probably be a good place to start. I don't know if you're local, but DC is full of good conservation people because of all the museums. Contact the gallery if you'd like some suggestions.

Hi, I'm interested in framing some b&w family photos in eclectic frames which I would paint the same color. Where can I find old frames on the cheap? I have been keeping my eyes out at thrift stores but haven't found good ones. (I can do the matting etc myself)

Flea markets, garage and estate sales, and auctions. Bear in mind that you can buy an "artwork" for the frame if the price is right.

I have an English oil in a gilt gesso frame with damage to the gesso. It has Manchester (England) Victorian gallery tags on the back, but was bought here. Two corners are complete, but the others are damaged. How do I get this repaired or is it even worth it?

We would have to look at the frame to see if it its worth rescuing, but it definitely can be done. Golden Rhodes in Old Town Alexandria is a great restorer.

A chatter last week asked where I got my daybed, but I didn't see the question until after the chat. I ordered it off Amazon, and it's a cheaper (and metal) version of a similar daybed from West Elm. I added a generic trundle from the same vendor, and two inexpensive mattresses from Wal-Mart (they were compressed, and filled with air when I let them out of the packaging). I topped both the daybed and trundle with a simple beige velour cover (check Amazon again, other options are either burlap or pricy), and a pile of inexpensive pillows from Marshall's. A comfy reading nook/guest bed for two with minimal space, no car, and less than $500. Amazon daybed

Wow. Thanks for sharing exactly how you did this. Very helpful and savvy.

Hi there! I was wondering what you frame when you frame a newspaper article? Do you cut the date and title off the front page or do you use the section's front page? Both? Thank you!

Hmm, not something I ever thought about! I think definitely the front page of the paper, maybe the section's as well if that is important to know over the long run. Most importantly, you need get the newspaper scanned and printed onto acid-free paper if you don't want to have a yellowing mess in very short order. Newsprint is full of acid and not meant to last!

I inherited a couple of large oil paintings from my mom; these are probably 60 or more years old and are woodsy scenes with streams and trees with soft colors. They are both framed in ornate gold frames with lots of carving etc. I would like to change the frames, but don't know what direction to go. Also, the paintings could probably use a good cleaning and I need to know where you go for that and how much it usually costs. Thanks

You would come to us for all of these things, assuming you are local!

Hi Susan - Please help us with art challenge in our living room. We redecorated last year and have an 8-10 foot blank wall, along which is a console piano and a chair. Decor is traditional and on another wall (above the sofa), we have a group of three art prints. My husband wants something "dimensional" for the piano wall. I don't necessarily disagree, but can't find anything I like. He is looking at metal sculptures, most of which I find tacky. Do you have any suggestions for us? Thanks.

I assume by dimensional you mean not flat. You might look for a wonderful architectural element at a local antique store. I would recommend any of the shops mentioned in today's Post coverage of Book Hill.

I have a long upstairs hallway with a handful of art pieces that I love, some photographs and some wooden sculpture. All of the art has (non-matching, but coordinating) dark wood frames, which works well with both the art itself and the dark wood bannister and oil-rubbed bronze fixtures. (The hallway itself is a pale green-gray with white trim; the floors are honey oak with dark wood insets.) I just found a photograph to display in an undecorated nook in the hallway. If it were going to stand on its own, I think it would look best with a crisp white mat and a thin black or silver gallery-style frame. But I fear that the "perfect" frame is going to look really jarring with the rest of the art and decor. What would you recommend as an alternative? Would a thin oil-rubbed bronze frame work?

I'm not sure I see why a thin black frame would not go with your darker frames. We do have a dark rosewood stained hardwood  that is very dark and yet definitely not black that we often use is cases where black is just too black. And bronze could also work.

Hello, I received a charcoal print of a woman (likely to be my great-grandmother, but we are not sure) that my grandmother carried with her from house to house, and to the nursing home where she recently passed. She kept it resting on a piece of thin cardboard and wrapped in a pinkish plastic. No one in the family ever saw it displayed, but it is clearly very important as it was one of the few things she did not part with when downsizing multiple times over the years and was the only picture she brought with her to the home. She was an artist. It is very fragile. Is there somewhere I can bring it to be looked at to have it properly preserved and or mounted somehow for display? I hate to just keep it in the closet.

I hope you are local, because if you are, please bring it to the gallery as fast as you can - cardboard and plastic are both the enemies of a work on paper, particularly a charcoal. If you're not local, bring it to the best conservation framing shop in your area.

Susan - What is the weirdest thing you've ever framed?

An ancient feather headress that the customer wanted attached to a metal bowler hat!

I just moved to a new condo and have tons of art. I have no idea about placement and would love to have an expert pick among my pictures and hang them. Are there people in the Alexandria area who do this, and, if so, would you give some names?

Contact the gallery for suggestions:

Hi there, We're putting in a garage office and thinking of a gray paint for the walls and a darker engineered hardwood on the floor. The only trouble is that there will be no windows or natural light in the space, which will be about 12 by 19. Any suggestions to help the room feel light and spacious?

I would definitely give your paint a little luminous quality to it. Would you consider a shade such as Palladian Blue or Silver Crest both by Benjamin Moore? I would keep your office furniture simple and maybe add in a color for your lamps, area rug ad accessories. Why not install some beautiful art that would draw your eye and provide some fresh color inspiration.

Good morning, I have two completely different questions--one on framing glass and the other on wall colors. #1. Is it necessary to use non-glare glass when framing watercolors? #2.I have a small bathroom(approx. 10x8) I would like to use a shade of orange on the top with a chair rail & bottom half of wall painted with a shade of white. Is this too much for a small bath? Thank you both for taking my questions!

I'll answer  the first question - Jura will have to take the second! There is non-reflective, or museum, glass and there is non-glare glass, which is more like a shower curtain, so I never recommend it. It only works if it is laying directly on the art, which is a no-no. Museum glass, on the other hand, is an amazing thing- virtually invisible. The question of whether or not it is necessary depends upon whether or not the art is going to hang where there is likely to be a glare coming off the glass - as in opposite a bank of windows. I always use Museum glass, but of course it's easy for me!

Hi Susan and Jura, "listening" in and if there's anything to know about porcelain I am all ears and typing fingers.

Wonderful. Thanks! Great stuff. Tell us how you got into this business? You have some new pieces in your line that have funky, familiar shapes!

I just had several pieces framed. Now what is the best way to hang them? I have plaster walls, and am not thrilled with holes. should I do a picture rail to hang from? floating display shelves that the pieces sit on?

I don't like floating display shelves personally, and don't forget you have to put holes in the wall to mount them. A picture rail would save you the holes and allow you to move things around at will, but paintings never hang really flush with this system. If you don't plan to move the artwork around once its hung, I would recommend just doing it right the first time, being sure to use Floreat or equivalent hangers, which are much kinder to walls. If your plaster is old and has become cement-like, you'll probably have to use a tiny drill bit to get the hole started.

Hello, Thank you for your response regarding my Grandmother's charcoal. I am local. Do I make an appt with someone at the gallery for this type of work or just come in?

You can just come in, but it does make sense to call ahead to be sure that I'm here. 202-965-4601.

Question (probably for Jura?) My daughter has chosen Benjamin Moore's Maidenhair Fern paint for her bedroom. She would like pink accents but I'm wondering if a coral or red tone might work better for accents? Thanks!

Great color. A nice lichen green. I agree with you that coral would be better than pink to go with it! Sounds like it will be a fantastic room.

I inherited a signed, numbered lithograph by Marcel Mouly and I have no idea what to do with it. It's gorgeous but doesn't fit my decor. What the heck do I do with it? I'm not sure I even have the right place to store it - in my garage?

I believe Mouly died recently, and his works were already expensive, so whatever you do, please take care of it, and that means no to the garage. You should do some online research as to prices, then contact an auction house if you see one that has handled a lot of his work and does well with it. Meantime, as a work on paper it should be stored in archival materials in a dry place. That might mean taking it out of the frame if it is framed, so that storage will be easier and more effective. Have that done by a good  gallery.

Are photos reproduced onto canvas tacky? I am quite a good photographer and plan to frame a lot of work for possible show, sale, and/or home decor. Are those canvas frames frowned upon in the photo/art world?

Answering for myself I can only say that I hate them, although I completely understand the impetus. Reproduction techniques are incredible these days and you save a bundle on framing. But I still hate them - it's like they cease to be the real thing once you do that, and I'm all about the real thing when it comes to art. Sorry.

Is there anything you can do about mold on paper? I have a framed poster with this problem.

Yes, a paper conservator can take care of that. Contact the gallery and I'll give you the contact info for the person I use.

I love to collect art. I have purchased a lot of art at the Crested Butte Arts Festival, and stumbled onto the great Telfair Museum Art Festival on a girl's trip to Savannah a few years ago. I would love to plan my travels around other great arts festivals. Do you have any resources or suggestions for art fairs or how to find other art shows to visit?

I wish I could answer this question, but there are so many festivals out there that I really can't. I recommend the internet! You could try the sites of magazines like American Art Collector.

Thanks Susan. What a ton of wonderful information and scholarship about art and framing. This one's a keeper. Thanks all of you for chatting with us today. Next week: Georgetown designer Colman Riddell will talk about her 1,700 square foot charmer of a house that started life as a stable in the 1850s.  She's an expert on family living in small spaces.

Thanks to everybody for all the interesting questions. Please feel free to follow up with me either by visiting the gallery or contacting us at: And if you need art (everybody needs art) or framing done, dare I say please visit us!


In This Chat
Susan Calloway
Art dealer and framing expert Susan Calloway has been providing her clientele an extensive range of fine, affordable art and chic custom framing from her Georgetown gallery for 20 years.
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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