Picture Framing and Art Preservation/framing molas


Hi -
I have inherited four Panamanian Kuna Molas from my grandmother, which are currently in shoddy aluminum frames with no glass to protect them (I'm guessing she bought them that way on a trip in the 70s) and the frames are coming apart. The Molas themselves are in good condition. Two of them appear to be a matched set, but all of their dimensions vary and would require custom frames. W x H approx: 15" x 11 3/4"; 15 1/8" x 14"; 15 1/4" x 13 3/4"; 18 1/4" x 15".

I would like to re-frame them in a modern style more akin to an artifact displayed in a museum (with the frayed edges showing) than a traditionally matted piece of art. I had thought about maybe floating frames or something that looks like those acrylic block photo frames that connect with magnets, but I don't want to smash them and I understand that having them in contact with the glass or acrylic isn't good for them. I've also considered maybe a shallow shadow box.

Any suggestions on how I might achieve this look (preferably without spending a fortune)? Thank you!

You are absolutely correct that having the molas in contact with the glass would be a bad thing. Glass is a very poor insulator and moisture will condense readily on its surface. If that moisture is in contact with the artwork it will lead to mold, mildew and staining.

Personally I like the idea of the "museum/artefact" type of presentation. It's a nice clean look and it will fit into just about any type of decor.

A few options to consider:

The acrylic box option: A platform made from stretcher bars is covered with a layer of matboard and then covered with fabric, generally a neutral-colored linen or cotton. The fabric is stretched around to the back so that the sides also have a finished appearance. The molas are then stitched down to the platform using cotton thread. Then an acrylic box is fit over the platform and attached with screws into the side of the platform.

Here are a couple pictures which will hopefully make it clear: http://tinyurl.com/cnvp7yq and http://tinyurl.com/c25n24d

While this option has a very minimal look, it is not less expensive than traditional framing, since the acrylic box is custom fabricated, a pretty specialized skill.

Another option is a shadowbox frame with enough depth to provide about 1/8" or more clearance between the highest point of the molas and the glass. For the museum look you mentioned, choose a cream cotton mat or a neutral fabric. The molas would be attached by sewing them down to the mat with cotton thread. A good option for the frame would be a hardwood frame with a very simple profile, maybe in a nice walnut finish. Spacers installed in the frame keep the glass away from the artwork.

This option will cost a bit more than framing something like a print because of the extra labor in sewing down the mola and the assembly. Consider talking to your framer about doing the mounting yourself. Your framer can supply you with the matboard and you could do the stitching yourself. It's easy but a little time-consuming. Just use cotton thread to make a series of stitches 1/8" to 1/4" long around the edges of the mola and then a number of stitches inside the design to add additional support. It would be very easy to hide the stitches in the design.

Finally, another option that would give you the clean museum look would be a direct contact overlay, also known as a pressure mount. This could be rather cost effective since it will not require a deep shadowbox frame and doesn't involve a lot of extra labor.

First, cut a piece of sturdy backing board such as 8-ply matboard. Then cut a piece of polyester quilt batting to the same size and a piece of fabric a few inches larger. Cover the board with the batting, then the fabric. Wrap the extra fabric around to the back of the board and secure around the edges with a good adhesive. This will give you a padded board.

Now place to mola in the center of the board, place acrylic on top of it and fit into the frame. Then finish as usual. This method will preserve the molas very nicely, as the batting will sort of push them out, while the acrylic holds them against the padded fabric providing very good overall support.

Please note that this method requires the use of acrylic, NOT glass. Acrylic has better thermal properties than glass and is much less prone to condensation.

This sounds like a great project. Please let me know if I can answer any other questions.  

Picture Framing and Art Preservation

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David Lantrip, MCPF, GCF


I can answer questions about all aspects of framing, with special emphasis on preservation framing. Categories of artwork include works of art on paper, needlework, textiles, paintings on canvas and three-dimensional objects. Components of framing includes frames, glass/glazing, mats, mounting, their features and how to select them.


I have been a professional picture framer and educator in the field since 1994, including framing education for a major franchisor encompassing three brands and the Professional Picture Framers Association, and writing and teaching for DECOR Magazine.

Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) > Board member, PPFA > Member, Certification Board > Member, Chapter relations Committee National Society, Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR)

DECOR Magazine, 2005 - 2010 PPFA For Members Only newsletter Member of the PPFA Guidelines task force, assisted in writing PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Paper and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Works of Art on Canvas, and PPFA Guidelines for Framing Textiles and Needlework. Picture Framing Magazine, 2012

Georgia State University, many classes as a student and educator through the Professional Picture Framers Association and DECOR Magazine. Current member of the PPFA guidelines task force and certification board.

Awards and Honors
Earned Certified Picture Framer (CPF) designation in 1996, Master Certified Picture Framer (MCPF) designation in 2004 and Guild Commended Framer (GCF) status in 2008.

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