As a 20-year-old in the early ’80s and working as an apprentice plasterer, I remember my first union meeting; the next youngest member was in his 50s. One of the old timers turned to me and mumbled that I could never make a living at this trade anymore. The consensus was that drywall had done us all in and there were just not enough plastering jobs anymore. I hopped from one company to another following the work. I stuck with the trade and even took a pay cut to work doing the old-style systems. Through the years, I focused on veneer and conventional plastering, stucco, EIFS, ornamental and whatever else I could learn.
In 1989, it was time to make a big move and start my own business, which I called Buffalo Plastering. Later, I teamed up with Leo Lysy, a European-trained sculptor, to create the architectural casting side of the business. Born in Belarus, Lysy was sent to an art school as a young teen and trained in architectural sculpture, eventually working on many government projects that showcased his talents. With his artistic talents, technical abilities and always researching materials and systems, it allowed the company to expand in directions that I originally could not have conceived. The ornamental division slowly grew from a side interest to a main source of work.
The Buffalo Historical Museum, Our Lady of Victory Basilica and Embassy Suites are just some of the customers at Buffalo Plastering and Architectural Casting.
The company’s usual scope of work includes custom fabricating columns, cornices, domes and any religious or architectural sculpture for both interior and exterior application, with the ability to replicate and custom match either terracotta, limestone, marble or travertine stone. Our sculptors have successfully replicated from architectural drawings, photographs and from original pieces. We are still plastering walls and ceilings with lime, plaster and cement stucco to meet the need for historical restoration and high-end plaster systems. We have also developed a collection of upscale cast travertine fireplace mantles that are being sold throughout the country from our Web site.
OLD AND NEW PIECESOur niche is incorporating sculptural talent that we have been able to showcase in jobs such as the work on one of Buffalo’s historical theaters-Shea’s Performing Arts Center. This was an interesting project because the original building was built in the early 1920s. It was built of terracotta that started to fail and was eventually removed in the 1930s. The building sat without its ornate parapet until 2005.
We were contracted to replicate the pediment in glass fiber reinforced cement to match the original terracotta. There were no prints to follow for this project. We only had an old photograph from which to work. We created shop drawings from this photograph and used the remaining existing structure for perspective. The process started by replicating the pediment in clay. Then, rubber molds were taken from the clay model and cast in the GFRC. A steel frame was embedded in the GFRC. Pieces were hoisted into place to bring the theater back to its original architecture.
Most recently, the company employed its expertise in ornamental plastering to the new construction of an estate in the New York City area for a development company. We were contracted to fabricate all interior and exterior ornamentation for the building. From the start, this project was different from our other jobs because we only received renderings from an artist rather than scale architectural drawings. We had to take the renderings and convert these designs to shop drawings to fit proper dimensions. Not only did the ornament have to be architecturally correct but it needed to function dimensionally with the other pieces and in the proper order.
When possible, we made running molds from metal profiles with plaster and incorporated sculptural elements from clay. Once the model was completed, rubber molds were taken. Next, a mother mold was made off of that. Then, each piece was cast in the appropriate material depending on if it was for interior or exterior use.
For the interior, we developed casting methods that used a modified fiberglass reinforced gypsum that can be cast thin enough to conform to high detail while having remarkable strength compared to traditional plaster and still maintaining the same smoke/fire rating and other positive properties of plaster ornament. One-of-a-kind interior ornaments that were fabricated include a dome containing diminishing diamond coffers with a rosette inlay. We also created a 4 foot-wide coffered cornice featuring custom sculpted ornament in the corners. This ornament was sculpted in clay and placed directly on a model of the cornice. From this model, rubber molds could then be taken to make multiple replications in plaster.
Our exterior pieces were made to resemble Italian limestone; chosen over actual Italian limestone for several reasons. First, our material weighs less. By employing a thin shell cast, not only are the pieces lighter than solid stone, the sculptural elements do not have to be carved but can be reproduced with less variation, in higher detail and at less cost. The marble, limestone and travertine we often replicate is typically indigenous to warm climates and may often degrade when subjected to freezing temperatures in colder climates. Our material is continually tested in Buffalo’s often inclement weather yet remains resilient to any degradation.
ROAM IN, SOLDIERSWe were involved with a unique project to replicate elements of the Trevi Fountain in Rome for the private residence. The sculptor replicated horses in oil-based clay that were then cast in plaster at approximately 25 percent of the intended finished size. From this model, the horses were then sent for digital replication out of marble at full scale (approximately 5 feet in length) while still keeping a high degree of detail.
Buffalo Plastering and Architectural Casting recently contracted another new-build estate where we will employ these same techniques on different designs. With high-end architecture, customers typically do not want to see their ornament taken right out of a catalog and installed in their house. They wanted it to be original-drawn by an artist and custom replicated specifically for their home. Over the past twenty years, I have been aware of the need to diversify by combining the traditional methods I grew up using with new the products and technologies available today to branch out from my company’s plaster/stucco origins.
Our office team, including Estimator, Office Manager and Plasterer Mark Baldwin estimates and coordinates the plaster work, and Dan Chorley, who was trained in architecture, does CAD shop drawings and project management. The talented people working here are motivated as the projects come together and we have a real respect for the architecture.
In trying to make use of resources, Leo’s wife Ina (also an artist) does historic restoration painting when needed. My three teenagers are learning the ropes, working summers in various aspects of the business; my 12-year-old daughter highlights details on blue prints for me when I bring them home. I think back to the words of the “old timer” who told me plastering was a dying trade-learning from the past has helped us to survive especially in this tough economy. W&C