The Lasting Frame

“When we build, let us think that we build forever,” wrote Ruskin in The Seven Lamps of Architecture. We make in enduring form—stone, strong timbers, iron, and all durable materials—things we believe will endure in use and meaning. When we build for lasting quality, we build for posterity. Here’s more of the famous quote:


Trevor Davis joining a quartersawn oak mortise-and-tenon frame

Every human action gains in honor, in grace, in all true magnificence, by its regard to things that are to come. It is the far sight, the quiet and confident patience, that, above all other attributes, separate man from man, and near him to his Maker; and there is no action nor art, whose majesty we may not measure by this test. Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! this our fathers did for us.”

—John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, “The Lamp of Memory”

A society that does not build to last must be asked, does it have any enduring and timeless values? Does it recognize any eternal laws? Does it acknowledge the universal?

Not only buildings but paintings—especially those made as murals to be thoroughly integral to buildings—have endured for centuries. When compared to the ephemeral and fleeting photographic image—both on paper and especially on a digital monitor screen—paint affords a fairly permanent record of an idea.

A picture frame in sound and solid and stable materials, soundly joined, carefully finished is an enduring protector and presenter of the enduring ideals that inspired the picture.

Enduring quality, no matter how simple in artistic expression, conveys immeasurably more than the slap-dash makeshift. It conveys a certainty that its purpose will endure. And much of the beauty we seek in the arts is simply in the integrity and quality of the work of art. This is in part what Keats meant when he wrote that “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”


The Ruskin quote inlaid on the lobby floor of the Chicago Tribune Building (Howells & Hood, 1923-25)

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