When observing piece of art, a feature that is often underappreciated is the frame it is displayed in. A frame can hold a tremendous amount of information and can even be considered a piece of artwork in itself. Frames not only support the piece of art, but an artist’s choice of frame can represent both personal taste and artistic trends of the era.
The rise of folk art in North America during the early 20th century saw frames begin to take a simpler style in contrast to the intricate and sometimes ostentatious frames of the past. Artists and framers began to choose frames that would not distract from or compete with an artwork but rather, embrace the work subtly. In the case of Homer Watson’s later works, his modestly decorated frames remained gilded, a reflection of the status of the work displayed within them.
Though the identities of most of Homer Watson’s framers remain unknown, the collection at HWHG contains several frames identified as “Williams” frames. Named for Watson’s son-in-law Stewart Williams, these carved wooden frames have distinct, simplified carving with a gilded finish.
Williams was apparently employed as a worker at the Watson House. Recollections from various Watson family members describe him working as a house painter, chauffer, and various other “handyman” jobs. The frames were hand carved using carpentry tools using many techniques that were likely self-taught. The frames incorporate folk art motifs and simplified geometric shapes. This geometric quality may have been loosely inspired by the art deco style popular during the period.
The earliest Williams frame in the collection at HWHG dates to approximately 1915, meaning these frames generally adorn work from Watson’s middle to late periods. Beyond complimenting the artwork, the frames can also provide insights into the date of creation for some of Watson’s pieces. Since the frames were unusual in style, they can also aid in the identification of Watson’s unsigned artworks.
The simplified lines of these later frames both reflect the changing styles in artistic movements, but also better align with Homer Watson’s evolving artistic style. In Watson’s later years, his artwork became more painterly, with visible brushstrokes and a move away from fine detail. The simplified Williams frames would have better complimented Watson’s new painting style that the highly carved frames of his youth.
At first glance, the Williams frames may appear unassuming, however, they can provide a considerable amount of information about the framer, the artist, and the artistic trends of the time. With an elegant approach to simplicity, these frames appropriately housed Homer Watson’s works, inviting the viewer to appreciate the painterly strokes of the artwork in harmony with the distinctly carved lines of the frame. This shift in framing style is reflected in the artwork itself and Watson’s evolving artistic views.