and they came down from Michigan to meet with me and the following conversation was had:
Plaster Man: It's great to meet with you, Dean, and with your son, Spencer. Perhaps you could give us a little background on your family and their long history in the plastering trade.Dean: I grew up around Allegan, Mich., and currently am living in Zeeland, Mich. Someone did research on the Kasten family and found plastering to be in the family as far back as the 1500s. In fact, my son Spencer has been plastering 11 years now and is the seventh generation that has been involved with plastering. Our family roots go back to the Netherlands, with my grandfather bringing plastering to the states where he taught my father and uncles and cousins. When I started plastering full time in 1957, there were 23 Kastens or relatives of Kastens still in the trade.
PM: Your father really did a lot of ornamental plastering in the Chicago area.Dean: He did the Bismark Hotel & Theatre that is today known as the Cadillac Theatre. He also spoke of the Chicago Symphony and how beautiful his work turned out there, as well. He also worked on the Marshall Field's store in downtown Chicago.
PM: What are your earliest memories of plastering?Dean: I was about 4 years old when I first went with my dad. At that time, I remember the crews were big-25 to 30 guys at a time on projects. At that time, scaffold was hand built to fit the room. At 11, I worked after school and during summer vacations cleaning the floors behind the crews. My father also would arrange to do ornamental work for free in people's homes just to be able to teach me how to run moldings.
PM: When did you really want to get into the trade?Dean: It was in 1945 when I moved into a house where I lived until I got married. My dad worked it over, doing all the moldings in all the rooms. They had six to eight members in each one. I wanted to do that kind of work. It was so rich and beautiful.
PM: What's the biggest change you've seen?Dean: The biggest change in plastering is how much easier it is now because of thin coat, better board and not having to use the heavy mixer because we now use the 1/2-inch drill to mix with.
PM: Did you always work for yourself or did you work with the union? And if so, how did you like it?Dean: I worked with the union approximately 10 years. What I liked the best about the union was that I worked with so many people and could learn a lot from them. I had the opportunity to manage a large crew as a foreman and work on large buildings. Now, as an independent contractor, we do mostly residential and I like that best because we get so many specialty projects and only travel about 8,000 miles a year.
PM: I hear you have a certain work ethic that you stick to. What's that?Dean: My strategy is to do the best possible job you can on every project even if you are losing money. I feel that in the long run, if you have a good reputation for good honest work, it will always pay off.
PM: What's your view of plastering for the future?Dean: I don't believe plastering will ever "die out," because there will always be people who want the superior product. Up until two years ago, we turned down six to eight weeks of work every week because so many wanted it.
PM: Some people object to training homeowners and do-it-yourselfers how to plaster. What are your thoughts on this?Dean: I feel that to keep it alive and well the plasterers have to make the homeowners aware of the benefits of plaster through whatever means they can. We showed one guy how to do the work and it only reinforced to him how much of a skill it really is. He appreciated what we did from that point on.
PM: What is a tip that would help promote plastering?Dean: I think it's very important to get the quality of work up to where it should be in a consistent way. For example, one builder told me, "We like plaster because of the durability but because of bad corners and others flaws dry wall can look better." In some cases, the trade is weaker because we haven't properly done our job.
PM: How did you get into Venetian plaster?Dean: I know about Venetian plastering because my dad talked to me about it and told me the steps you need to go through to produce it. Then in 1996, on a trip to Israel with a Bible scholar, we visited a palace of King Herod's on Masada that was built about 40 B.C. There I saw Venetian plaster and started recalling the steps my dad told me about.
Then a couple months later, I got a phone call from a builder of both residential and commercial places. He needed a 13-foot-by-13-foot cube done in Venetian plaster. They sent me to Chicago to see one done by a New York group and I came back and did it in Holland. After that, I did it in other places and then started doing it in a variety of colors yet keeping it smooth-not textured.
I have worked on the Cappon House restoration in Holland, Mich. That is the house of the first mayor of Holland, built in the 1870s, and it has been completely restored. We couldn't remove anything that was original but had to repair and patch. The most challenging was the medallion in the center of the dining room. It was missing about 25 percent and another 50 percent heavily damaged. Because of shrinkage, it was 1/4 inch out of round but now it looks like new.
PM: I wanted to ask your son Spencer how he feels about the trade.Spencer: The first few years I was in it just because the family had been into it so long. It was just a job to me at first. But the past few years it's taken on much more meaning. I feel very proud of the heritage and the skill that's been passed down through the generations. And it's much more than a job now-it's really a family tradition I plan on promoting with my kids, as well.
PM: Any parting words you'd like to share?Dean: I think it's important not to be too fast in judging something by its mere appearance. For example, I was working in California with a guy who was using techniques that I couldn't figure out. But instead of looking at them as "bad" or "wrong," I looked at it as just different and I tried out his methods. It turned out that it worked very well! It taught me that it's not good be stubborn and to keep my mind open to new things.
This month's winner of the Plaster Man/Walls & Ceilings T-shirt is Tom Shannon. Just e-mail me at Robin@plasterzone.com or write to me in care of this magazine. Include your name and address. That's all it takes to win. Until next time, Plaster On!