About Joel Oppenheimer, Inc.

Our galleries in Chicago and Charleston offer a stunning array of natural history art, as well as fine art framing and complete conservation and restoration lab facilities. Founded in 1969, Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. strives to provide collectors with an unsurpassed selection of the finest examples of prints and paintings from the golden age of natural history art. In addition, a handsome collection of twentieth-century sporting and Southern art and natural history works, both antique and contemporary may be found at The Audubon Gallery, our Charleston location.

Antique Natural History Prints

Our fine art galleries are devoted to the golden age of natural history art, a period of exploration and discovery from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. The great artists who depicted and classified life forms of the natural world were a unique product of their time who revealed a new exotic world to their contemporaries and recorded its beauty for posterity. Our central focus is the artist John James Audubon, a renaissance man who was equal parts intrepid explorer, inquisitive scientist, expert hunter, publisher, and innovative artist. It is through his artistic interpretations of birds that we most vividly experience his genius. As specialists in the antique natural history art genre, we offer collectors superb examples of rare works by Audubon, Redouté, Thornton, Gould, Lear and others. Each antique print is of outstanding quality and condition. In many instances, we have only one of each original print at any given time.

The art of natural history prints parallels the development of print-making techniques, beginning with woodcuts in the fourteenth century, and progressing to copper-plate engraving, etching, lithography, and then chromolithography in the latter half of the nineteenth century. For the natural history artist, each innovation brought technical advancements that afforded a new means to express the subtle beauty of their subjects with greater fidelity. Chromolithography, introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, represented a major improvement in an artist’s ability to create full-color prints. 

Oppenheimer Editions

Still, the antique prints were interpretations of the original paintings translated to engraving plates or lithographic stones. The digital-imaging process employed to create Oppenheimer Editions prints represents a significant advancement in print-making technology. We are proud to be innovators in this important arena.

To make these exquisite natural history prints available to a wider audience of collectors, every original antique print in our collection is also offered as a more affordable modern-day limited-edition fine art print published by Oppenheimer Editions. Our commitment to the quality and integrity of our limited-edition publications has made them a success since their inception more than ten years ago.

Excellent facsimiles of the original antique prints are available as well as Oppenheimer Editions first-edition prints from major museum collections. Works from the New-York Historical Society’s unrivaled collection of Audubon’s watercolors as well as paintings from their Hudson River School collection are both remarkable examples of works that would otherwise be unobtainable to individual collectors. In both cases, they are not mere reproductions. These limited-edition fine art prints are made with the finest quality archival pigments on rag watercolor papers and executed to exacting standards. 

Conservation and Restoration Services

Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. provides professional art conservation and restoration services. Our staff can analyze and perform corrective treatments for anything on paper or canvas. This includes drawings, prints, maps, photographs, documents, paintings and Asian screens. In our laboratories we have developed and perfected techniques that enable us to retain delicate pigments, signatures and hand coloring. Each piece and problem is treated with singular care. Our clients include major museums that require our particular expertise, smaller museums that do not have their own conservation facilities, galleries, institutions and private collectors nationwide. The problems we encounter and dramatic results we often achieve are impressive:

 Embrittled paper can be re-hydrated and supported with special tissues made from Japanese mulberry paper.

• Fragmenting and tears can be effectively repaired.

• Stains resulting from water, pressure-sensitive tapes, glues, mold or mildew (foxing) and rust often can be eradicated or significantly reduced.

• Pieces that have been improperly mounted or glued down to boards can usually be removed from mounts and all glue residues eliminated.

• Pigments that are “cupping” or flaking off can be consolidated and stabilized.

• Varnish and lacquers can be removed from most surfaces.

• Folds can be removed or significantly reduced with controlled humidification and drying procedures.

• Cockling, or waviness from exposure to excessive water or humidity, can be reversed.

• Paintings can be relined with new canvas if the integrity of the original canvas jeopardizes the paint surface.

The anticipated results are discussed in consultation with clients before proceeding with any treatment. Our vast experience with works of art and objects on paper, canvas and photographic materials allows us to accurately predict the degree of success of a treatment. For additional assurance, we frequently secure permission to test a piece before proceeding with any work. A booklet about our conservation and restoration services is available free of charge upon request.

Archival Framing

Our framing services are available for your works of art and family heirlooms. As conservators of works of art, we are committed to archival, museum-quality framing. Our niche in the framing industry is to offer our clients the best quality available without compromise. In addition to strictly adhering to the use of archival materials and techniques, we provide superior attention to aesthetic qualities and details.

We specialize in finished-corner moldings. Many framers routinely refer to themselves as “custom” framers because they simply cut pre-finished moldings to size and join them together. Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. frames are truly custom finished and sized individually for every picture and every client. Because the frames are finished after they are joined, the miter at the corners is not readily visible. The period moldings we offer are exact replicas of antique frames and are constructed of the identical materials and in the same time-honored manner. We also offer a large selection of modern and contemporary moldings.

To make our gold leaf frames we begin with raw hardwoods that are hand carved, cut to size, spline joined and sanded. The frame is then coated with gesso (a plaster-like material) and a clay layer of either red, blue, black or yellow color is applied. This clay layer becomes a smooth surface to which the gold is applied and also serves as an under color that influences the color of the final gold finish. Then, gold leaf is applied to the clay surface. The carat content of the gold determines its color of gold. The gold layer is then burnished by hand. This laborious process gives the gold finish its unique luster. The gold is then rubbed away to varying degrees, revealing the clay color beneath. On a period frame, additional antiquing and distressing can add a final touch. 

We use 100% rag (cotton fiber) board to make our archival French and silk mats and imported 100% rag watercolor papers. A design is drawn in pencil on the mat. Then, colors for the decoration of each mat are mixed individually using the finest quality watercolor pigments. The lines are drawn with traditional ruling pens. Watercolor washes are applied with sable brushes until the desired color is achieved. Silk mats are also wrapped by hand around rag boards. Varying the color of the boards under the silk can achieve subtle nuances in silk colors.

In glazing archivally framed works, use of an ultraviolet filtering glazing material is imperative. We offer glass, Plexiglas and state-of-the-art optically coated museum glass, which substantially reduces reflection. All have ultraviolet inhibitors that effectively filter up to 99% of UV light. Artwork that is framed properly is well protected and can be enjoyed for generations.

The Audubon Gallery in Charleston

Located in the heart of Charleston’s antique district, The Audubon Gallery offers a fine selection of natural history art, Southern and sporting art, as well as exceptional bird carvings and antique decoys. A distinctive collection of works unique to our Charleston gallery has been curated under the knowledgeable direction of Burton Moore, III, including etchings by Alfred Hutty, Roland Hanmer Clark and Frank Benson, paintings by Gordon Allen, bird carvings by contemporary carver Mark McNair, and much sought after bronze sculptures by award-winning sculptor Walter Matia. 

Built in 1839, our meticulously restored historic building is a fine example of antebellum architecture. It is situated not more than 100 yards from where the Reverend John Bachman, Audubon’s partner in creating The Viviaprous Quadrupeds of North America, gave his sermons. Surely, Audubon’s footsteps are on King Street and his eyes gazed upon the façade of our building that now exhibits his work.