Many Aboriginal paintings are in acrylic paint on cotton or
linen canvas, and they are stored and delivered rolled up. This
is possible because, unlike ochre and some other natural pigments,
acrylic paint is flexible and the painting can be rolled without
damage (provided reasonable care is taken).
One of the most common ways to display an Aboriginal art work
on canvas is simply to hang it on its stretcher frame - often
no border or additional frame is needed.
A stretcher is a wooden support that a canvas is attached
to for stability. A frame around the stretcher, in addition
to complementing the appearance of the painting, provides extra
support for the canvas.
A competent picture framer will be able to stretch the painting
onto a stretcher frame quickly and economically. Alternatively,
you can stretch the canvas yourself fairly easily once you know
what to do and have the right tools and materials.
Making a Stretcher Frame
First you need to collect the necessary tools and materials:
a stapler with staples (or hammer and tacks), stretcher strips
(bars), and possibly also a pair of canvas pliers to grip the
canvas (similar to ordinary pliers except they have a broader
gripping area). In addition, a T-square is convenient to help
make sure that the stretchers are square.
You can buy stretcher bars, staplers and stainless steel staples
from art supply shops or framers.
Measure the size of the painted area that you want on display
and cut the stretcher strips to size. Then assemble the stretcher
frame using the strips, pushing the mitred ends into each other
and gluing the joints.
One or more cross bars may be needed (one is shown
in the diagram) depending on the size of the painting and the
strength and stiffness of the stretcher bars.
Check that the stretcher frame is square, either by using a
T-square or by taking a tape measure and checking that the diagonal
distances from opposing corners are equal. If these are equal,
the frame is square. If there is a problem, correct it by attaching
a small metal right-angle brace or a small right triangle of
plywood on the inner frame corner.
For stretcher bars longer than 90 cm (36 inches), an inner
brace should be inserted between the bars to support them from
bowing inward after the canvas has been attached. This will
also protect against frame distortion during periods of fluctuating
Part 2: Stretching a Canvas onto a Stretcher Frame