New York’s Lowy Frame & Restoring Co. is kind of a big deal. The company, founded in 1907, has been called upon to frame projects for the reopening of the European wing of the Metropolitan, an El Greco for Museo del Prado, and more. But President Larry Shar is just as passionate about working with private collectors as he is about the world’s most remarkable museums.
Both you and your father, Hilly Shar, started working for Lowy at a young age. Tell us about your family history with the company.
My dad went to work for Lowy as a teenager. He was doing all the inside operations, including hands-on restoration and framing. He then left and set up a competitor company, Shar-Sisto, in 1948. In 1956, the principals that were left at Lowy asked my dad if he would be interested in a merger, and he agreed.
I got involved at my father’s side as a young man, going in on weekends and holidays when it was Shar-Sisto, and then I came onboard full-time in 1970 after graduation from college. At that point, we started buying out the Lowy principals, and the firm became ours, my dad’s and mine.
How did Lowy’s collection of antique frames become the largest in the country?
Lowy always had a large collection. When I got involved in the ’70s, however, we started to buy more and more antique frames because people were beginning to understand the value of historically correct frames on paintings. Prior to that, people were more interested in aggrandizing the art object and putting fancy Rococo frames on just about anything. As a result, I’ve done a lot of traveling to bolster the collection; I went to Europe very often—Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, England—to buy as much product as was available.
Lowy also reproduces frames. How do you decide if a piece of art should have an antique frame or a reproduction?
We try to buy frames that are in relatively good condition. Like any antique, the more damage, the less value. Having said that, we do buy antique frames that need some work if they’re rare and worth putting back together in such a matter than the integrity of the antique hasn’t been compromised too much.
Sometimes, though, altering the size of a period frame is not feasible, so in those cases we do make reproductions. In many cases, a painting may not merit the cost of an antique frame; reproductions are generally less expensive.
Are reproductions made with the same materials as the antiques they’re mimicking?
It’s always best to make an accurate copy and to use the materials that were used during the time. However, there are certain materials that were not available when some frames were made that can duplicate what was done and still give you the same look. For example, 18th-century French frames were typically made out of oak; but in today’s world, to carve a Rococo frame, it’s much more time-consuming because that’s hard wood, so we substitute a basswood in most cases.
How do you help a collector decide what frame is right for his or her painting?
There are a lot of things to consider. What’s historically correct? What’s aesthetically appealing? You need to think about your furnishings, the mood of the painting, and also what the artist would have liked. It’s a cliché, but when we own a painting, we are the custodians of that painting for the time that we own it, and it’s our right and privilege to enjoy that painting and present it the way that gives us the most enjoyment.
Do you have a dream commission?
I would have loved if Andy Warhol had done my portrait so that I could frame that and then sell it and retire. [Laughs.] I guess in today’s world, I’m going to have to figure out how Lowy can frame a shark in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst.
What’s your favorite part of being president of Lowy?
The creative process, and the fact that every painting that comes in here is different and presents different challenges. We have the interesting job of making sure that when the painting leaves here, it does so in a state that it will be preserved for the future and hopefully presented in such a way that the owner can enjoy it for as long as he or she owns it—and maybe we even ensure that the enjoyment outlives the owner. That’s the beauty of our work.
Shop beautiful antique frames from Lowy Frame & Restoring here on The HighBoy!
Photography by: Alex Broadwell