This month, I thought I would include a special interview with a lady who specializes in plaster repair. Since I have three sisters and three daughters, it's only appropriate that I shine the spotlight on what women do in this trade, as well.
Here is my interview with Helen Gallagher. I think it will give a nice view of someone who discovered the plastering trade, shows her real love for it and the pride taken in putting quality into all she does. I hope you enjoy it!
Plaster Man: Helen, it is so good to be able to ask you some questions about the work you do with plaster. Let's start with a little background on you.
Helen Gallagher: I grew up as a military child and moved all over the world until my father retired from the military in 1977. I graduated from high school in 1985 and soon after I married my high school sweetheart. We had a child in 1986. I was married for about five years and as a lot of young marriages go we ended in a divorce. He left the state and I didn't know where he was for years. I became a single parent with no child support.
I started out working at one of the biggest lock companies in the world here in the Colorado Springs area. The work was hard and dirty-a real sweatshop. Everything was about numbers. Sometimes, it was like Roman times, with the supervisor whipping his whip and screaming for more numbers and to go faster. If you couldn't hang on, then you were slowly pushed out, so everyone had to hold their own. I was always looking for a way out of that job.
PM: How did the opportunity come for you to leave this type of work? And more importantly, how did you get into plastering?
HG: I saw a job fair article in the newspaper for a huge computer/electronic assembly plant and I applied. I got the job and earned a couple more dollars per hour. In electronics, the market is so up and down that getting laid off was a common thing, so you just moved on to the next place that was hiring and of course, I was laid off at that plant. My best friend on the assembly line had a boyfriend who was in the drywall/patch repair and remodeling business, and needed a helper. He agreed to pay me the same amount of money I was making before being laid off, so I agreed to jump into the construction business that I knew nothing about.
PM: Did you find plastering to be different than what you had done in the past?
HG: The transition from electronics and computers was extremely different as his helper. As a helper, I masked off houses, mixed mud, cleaned tools, set up and took down the equipment. I got to the point when I knew what he needed before he'd even ask for it and I became very valuable to him, because I did all the prep and clean up before and after the job.
I was a helper for about six months and decided to go back to the electronics field because I was offered more money again. He pleaded with me not to go back and gave three times more money than the electronic company offered me. I chose to stay on as a helper. It was physically harder to stay but the money was too tempting for me to go elsewhere. Eventually, I started watching and learning the trade by watching him work, and was always asking him questions. I began to stock pile tools that I needed for that trade. With time I became an expert at it and went out on my own.
PM: It sounds like you did your homework! So how did your business progress?
HG: I became a mobile patch-and-repair gal for a subcontractor with a very large residential homebuilder in Colorado Springs. The type of repairs I do are generally going into the new homes after completion of the drywall hangers and finishers to patch and touch up areas, such as covering up attic accesses, fixing tape blisters, cracks, wrapping doors, and finding electrical outlets that had been covered up. I also retextured walls that didn't match to the other walls.
Warranty warriorsPM: In our conversation, you had mentioned that you do warranty work. Can you tell us what that includes?
HG: Warranty work is when a house is completed and about a year later, when settling is pretty much done, I am asked to go in and fix nail pops, tape blisters, popped bead and cracks. My boss likes to have me do this because I am neat and clean and homeowners are picky, because they think that a patch person is going to leave their new homes in a mess. The contractor is obligated for a year to fix and pay any of the above-mentioned problems that arise after the year of the house settling.
PM: In your opinion, how you do you feel you measure up in doing this type of work?
HG: I believe women are more detail oriented and cleaner in the work done. They also show a lot more care than the average Joe, in respect to the homeowners' personal property in the home. We think about our own home and what we would not like to see happen in our own homes, therefore I tend to be more meticulous in the work that I do. This helps build up trust with them, knowing I am not going to rush through the job and that somehow gives them comfort after the initial shock of seeing a woman at the door with tools in hand!
PM: Would you recommend plaster repair to other women?
HG: I can truthfully say that the work is hard but the money is wonderful and it is also an "invisible art." It's what you don't see-no sign of the patching you do-that helps you build a great reputation. The challenges to women in this line of work are the lack of confidence people have in seeing a woman do the work. But then to have them completely satisfied when the work is done is a great feeling. I feel I've accomplished something. I've overcome the stereotyping that some people do with women in this field. I guess people can't help it, they just don't have confidence about a women in this line of work.
It's akin to seeing a female plumber at your door and not thinking she knows what she doing but she is a complete professional and knows her job. To me, it's like a women pilot: It's the art, not the physical strength, that a woman needs to do her job.
PM: Do you see a lot of women getting into this field? What have you experienced?
HG: Right now, there are three repair workers where I'm at for a medium-sized company and I'm the only woman in the trenches. I would love to train more women to appreciate the art and the money that can be paid to better their own lives, and also garner the respect in the plastering industry.
I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts on the plastering trade Helen and I am sure the readers will appreciate them, as well. Thanks again.
Congratulations go out to a long time reader of this column, John Fedako of Shamokin, Penn., the latest winner of the Walls & Ceilings/Plaster Man T-shirt. To enter, simply send your name and address to me, Plaster Man, in care of this magazine or e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember that your comments and questions are always welcome. Until next time, "Plaster On!"
If you read this article, please circle number 176.