The Carrig - Rohane Frame Shop

Frank Benson (1862-1951)
Portrait of a Lady (Mary Kemble Webb Sanders), 1907

By the late nineteenth century in America, the art of framing had been reduced to a mass produced, uninspired style. Marlborough native Hermann Dudley Murphy, through his Carrig-Rohane frame-making shop, did more than anyone else to elevate the level of craftsmanship in current frame production.

After studying at the Boston Museum School, Murphy traveled to Paris where he made an influential friendship with James Abbott McNeill Whistler, an American artist and avid frame-maker who believed “…that frame and painting should harmonize in color and in style and that the integrated unit should in turn harmonize with the room in which it was placed.” Upon returning to America in 1897, Murphy, discouraged by the poor quality of the frames he was able to obtain commercially, decided to buy materials and teach himself how to carve and gild. After experimenting with frames for his own paintings and receiving high praise for them, he decided to open his own frame shop. In 1903 he created the Carrig- Rohane shop (named after the Irish town of Murphy’s father and meaning “Red Cliff” in Gaelic) which focused on producing the “finest possible hand-carved and gilded frames, custom designed for the paintings they were to enclose.”

By 1906 Carrig – Rohane had expanded to include fellow American artists and expert carvers Charles Prendergast and Walfred Thulin. The magazine International Studio called them the “Boston group” of frame-makers—“the first serious attempt in this country to restore the picture frame to something of its old-time honor and to introduce the spirit of individual artistic responsibility.” As if to reiterate his belief in the artistic value of the frame itself, Murphy became the first American framer to sign and date the back of each frame produced.  The ideology behind each Carrig- Rohane frame is best exemplified by the words of Charles Prendergast: “Good work compels respect, and if the craftsman wishes to take a higher rank, he must become an artist as well.”   

John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916)Autumn Symphony, 1889

As the years went by, Murphy realized he was spending most of his time taking care of the business side of the shop, which did not leave much time for painting and designing frames.  Thus, in 1915 he asked his friend, the Boston art dealer Robert C. Vose to take over the managerial role of the shop, though it would remain with the same name and in the same location. This arrangement continued for some years until the decade following the Great Depression when the cost of high-quality frames was no longer feasible. The style of C-R frames also did not fit the bourgeoning abstract movement of painting.

The remaining operations moved to Vose Galleries and were eventually shut down in 1939.  The legacy of Carrig- Rohane frames carries to this day, with many beautiful “CR” frames, and the works within them, still passing through our doors.

Vose, S. Morton, II. "The Carrig-Rohane Shop, Inc. Boston." Vose Archive
Barol, Bill. "The Carrig-Rohane Frame." American Heritage Dec. 1989: 30.

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