Take a look through this gilder’s frame studio — just a quick browse:
Now, I ask, where do you think you are? A centuries-old atelier in Florence, or maybe Paris? Wrong!
If you’ve been out sipping beer at the Brickskeller near Dupont Circle lately, it’s right beyond the rear wall, accessible down the alley and around the back: Gold Leaf Studios is the only gilder’s workshop in Washington and among very few in the entire United States.
Bill Adair, whom I just came to know this week, invited me to his studios the other day to take a look around. The converted carriage house contains more than 3,000 frames, with some dating back to the 17th century, such as this one:
“I’m nuts about anything that can add to my story,” Bill told me. He is a walking encyclopedia of art history, and can hold forth on a frame’s provenance for as long as you are willing to listen — which is generally not as long as he is willing to talk. “I love my job!” he says, which pretty much goes without saying.
He is a curator, historian, restorer, and creator of frames — oh, and he’s a master gilder, too, which is the art of making the thinnest leaves out of gold and then applying them throughout the nooks and crannies of elaborately carved frames.
“There is no place in the country that does what we do,” he told me. Considering the work orders in his shop at the time I visited, I think I believe him.
Adair’s frames are like his children — he has so much to say about each one. His proudest accomplishment, lately, is creating two replicas of a frame that was presented to George Washington by Louis XVI, containing Louis’ likeness:
The replicas were commissioned by Mount Vernon. Adair will deliver one to Paris in May, at a gathering of the European Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as it celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan.
“It’s going back to a unified Europe in a symbolic gesture of continued support between our country and Europe,” Bill said.
The other replica will go back to Mount Vernon, where it will likely hang in the house, while the original will go to the Mount Vernon museum.
But that’s not the only thing going at Gold Leaf Studios. Let’s go down to the workshop:
Bill, a Bethesda native who started his business nearly 30 years ago, is trying to pass on the art of gilding through a series of training classes he regularly conducts for city children at the National Building Museum. And even if you’ve never thought about the frame that goes around a picture before, he will engage you, like it or not.
And beyond his work for the State Department, numerous museums, churches, and his lectures here and abroad on frame history and conservation, he can simply provide anyone with a frame for their own artwork It’s definitely worth a visit.
Here are a couple more pictures I took there, to send you off for a great weekend.