History of decorative ornamental plaster stucco molded guaged cast in place
A brief note on ornamental plaster and stucco through the ages. . .
Ornamental Plastering is an ancient art. Archaeological evidence has shown that ornamental plaster began in
Egypt around 4000BC. It was crudely perfected by Grecian artisans, then the Romans used these techniques to decorate the
interior and exterior of their buildings throughout the Roman Empire. The versatility and beauty of this art has been employed
down through the centuries to decorate some of the worlds most impressive architecture. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and
well into the nineteenth centuries almost all prominant buildings used this art form in their construction. Sculpturing, mold
making, Casting and Setting and Run in Place Molds have all been maintained within the Plastering Industry. Since the earliest
times, the old "Guild System", of Apprentice to Journeyman, and on to Master has kept this art almost secretive down through the
years. In the earlier times; it wasn't difficult to teach an apprentice, or a journeyman, all phases of Ornamental Plastering,
because there was always plenty of this work being done. Some buildings taking as long as five years to complete. As time went by,
more, and more, of this beautiful work was eliminated from from our architecture due to economics, making it almost impossible for
the masters to pass on their art. But luckily there are still a few good men, with enough skill, to practice ornamental plasterwork.
Let's face it folks, it ain't rocket science, we're using the same tools employed over 6000 years ago!
Historically speaking, the term "plaster" could mean "stucco" and visa-versa. The term "plaster", is now used when
referring to the traditional gypsum with a lime-based coating. "stucco" (originally meaning fine interior ornamental plasterwork),
is now generally used to describe exterior plastering and ornament. "Render" and "rendering" are also terms used to describe stucco,
especially in Great Britain. Other historic treatments and coatings related to stucco include: parging and pargeting, wattle and
daub, cob/chalk mud, rammed earth, half-timbering, and adobe. All of these are regional variations on traditional mixtures of mud,
clay, lime, chalk, cement, gravel or straw and many are still used today. In the U. S. of A stucco is primarily used on residential
and small-scale commercial structures. Some of the earliest stucco buildings in the United States include examples of the Federal,
Greek and Gothic Revival styles of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Stucco use was popular for many reasons. It was an
inexpensive material that could simulate finely dressed stonework, as in European tradition. A stucco coating over a less finished
and less costly substrate such as rubblestone, fieldstone, brick, log or wood frame, gave the building the appearance of being a more
expensive and important structure. As a weather-repellent coating, stucco protected these buildings from wind and rain penetration,
and also offered a certain amount of fire protection. While stucco was usually applied during construction as part of the building
design, particularly over rubblestone or fieldstone, in some instances it was added later to protect the structure, or when a man, but
more likely his wife, wanted to keep up with the Joneses.
The composition of historic stucco before the mid-to-late nineteenth century consisted primarily of hydrated or slaked
lime, water and sand, with straw or animal hair included as a binder. Natural cements were frequently used in stucco mixes after their
discovery in the United States during the 1820's. Portland cement was first manufactured in the United States in 1871, and it gradually
replaced natural cement. After about 1900, most stucco was composed primarily of portland cement, mixed with some lime. With the addition
of portland cement, stucco became even more versatile and durable. Today, gypsum, which is hydrated calcium sulfate or sulfate of lime
has replaced lime plaster, and is preferred because it hardens faster and has less shrinkage than lime. Lime is generally used only in
the finish coat of today's plaster work. The composition of stucco depended on local custom and available materials. Stucco often
contained substantial amounts of mud or clay, marble or brick dust, or even sawdust, and an array of additives ranging from animal blood
or urine, to eggs, keratin or gluesize (animal hooves and horns), varnish, wheat paste, sugar, salt, sodium silicate, alum, tallow,
linseed oil, beeswax, and wine, beer, or rye whiskey. Waxes, fats and oils were included to introduce water-repellent properties, sugary
materials reduced the amount of water needed and slowed down the setting time, and alcohol acted as an air entrainer. These additives all
contributed to the strength and durability of the stucco. The appearance of much stucco was determined by the color of the sand. Sometimes
burnt clay was used in the mix, but often stucco was also tinted with natural pigments, or the surface whitewashed or color-washed after
the application was completed. Brick dust could provide color, and other coloring materials that were not affected by lime, mostly mineral
pigments, could be added to the mix for the final finish coat. Stucco was also marbled or marbleized, stained to look like stone by diluting
oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid) with water, and mixing this with a yellow ochre, or another color. As the 1900's progressed, synthetic
non-reactive pigments were added at the factory to prepared stucco mixes. Now entirely synthetic binders and aggregate can produce almost
every color, and along with styrofoam and fiberglass, protect and beautify almost any structure. Providing an architect of merit is involved.
Ornamental plaster shops developed from the single artisan operations of the 18th century into the huge plaster studios of the early 20th century,
catering to the demands of the movers and shakers in the industrial revolution. These studios employed immigrant workers and later, the native craftsmen they
had put out of buisness. (Much like foam products are invading to the industry today.) Property owners could/can select ornamentation for their
splendid new buildings/"McMansions" from catalogs. Ornamental plasterwork can be produced in two ways,it can be run in place (or on a bench)
at the site, or cast in molds. Plain plaster molding without surface ornamentation/enrichment is usually created directly on the wall, or run
on a flat surface, then attached to the wall after it sets. Other ornament like ceiling centers for light fixtures (medallions), brackets, dentils,
or columns were cast in gelatin or plaster molds,(now, silicone and fiberglass) in more than one piece, then assembled and installed on-site. There
are two decorative plaster forms in particular, the cornice,and the coffered ceiling, (They make the grandest impression when executed on domes,
barrel and groined vaults) which are the only things best left, to the few masters left around, in the ornamental plasterers business. (kids don't
try this anywhere without competent supervision) I call it "The filthy dirty no so technical artform."
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Glenn W. Loucks Sr.
571 Emerald Ave., Fort Pierce, Florida 34945
Glenn W. Loucks Jr.
9300 Carlton Rd., Port Saint Lucie, Florida 34987
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