Donhead Publishing has reprinted in facsimile the book described as the plasterer's bible, Plastering Plain & Decorative, written by William Millar in the 1890s, and edited and revised in 1927 by George Bankart, an architect turned craftsperson in lead and plaster who worked with the Bromsgrove Guild and Ernest Gimson of the Arts & Crafts movement.
The first chapter, on the history of plaster, written by George Robinson, and the date of the book at the peak of the English Arts & Crafts movement, is affirmed in comments made about Robert Adam that 'very little work was left to the art of the plasterer' who chiefly cast 'monotonously repetitive' elements, and now 'it is no longer the plasterer who adorns the house - it is the compo man'.
Chapter 5 on modelling and design in relief, written by Bankart, shows photos of the author's own work inspired by poems of William Morris and installed in Exeter (could this be Bystock?). The panels, in light relief and cleverly done, are pre-Raphaelite in style but almost like Flaxman in their modelling. 'Another bad habit is working with a wet sponge and finger,' he writes, because it 'leaves the surface smooth and shiny'.
Chapter 6 on plaster tools gives common names, except for riffle files, and while most tools are owned by plasterers, employers usually supply files and rasps. There are group photos and drawings of plaster tools, including American ones from Goldblatt Tool Co of Kansas City. What is the difference between a larry and a rake? A larry or drag has three or four prongs with a handle of six to nine feet for mixing hair with coarse stuff and knocking it up for use, while a rake has a plain blade and is used for making setting stuff.
The book marches on through materials into composition, including gesso, papier-mâché, compo and carton-pierre, and where, among others we are treated to Walter Crane's recipe for gesso.
The last chapters on plasterers' memoranda gives quantities, weights and recipes. A bundle of split laths contains 360 running feet and will cover about five superficial yards, using 500 nails. Sawn laths are usually used in America. Pumice concrete weighs 70 lbs / cu ft, brick concrete 120 lbs, limestone concrete 130 lbs, slag concrete 140 lbw. Victorians used scrap material such as broken reclaimed brick to good effect. Plaster casts can be made extremely hard and tough (and able to take a polish) by adding pulverised marshmallow root to the mix, or by using gauging water in which marshmallow roots have been boiled. To make plaster look like polished marble, take clean skimmed milk and coat the figure until it will absorb no more, then lay it in a place free from dust until dry. Plaster gauged with milk and water will enable the casts to be polished. A hawk boy - 'now past history' the book says in 1897 - would wait on two plasterers, and could throw a serverful of stuff to a man on a scaffold ten foot high. Hawk boys were banned because 'knowing the names and uses of the tools, a cute boy developed into a so-called plasterer, to the detriment of apprenticeship'.
The appendix has developments in America including those of Mr. O. A. Malone, president and founder in 1927 of the Californian Stucco Products Co, and known as the man who put the colour into California with so-called 'Jazz Plaster'.
Early Christmas present anyone?