Greetings from the Preservation Department at Stratford Hall! After a few bumps in the road, the plasterworkers are making good progress on leveling the ceiling of the parlor.
The preservation architect and the plaster contractor brought in a number of fun gadgets to map out the surface of the ceiling, including a rotating laser level. It shot out multiple beams of light that briefly made the parlor look like a strobe-lit nightclub. The workers then painstakingly mapped out every cup and bend in the ceiling with pencil, and then custom-cut wood strips and attached them to the ceiling to provide a flatter surface for the attachment of the lath.
For those of you who, like me, have never seen plasterwork in progress, it is an arduous process. After attaching the wooden furring strips to the ceiling, the contractors applied huge sheets of expanded metal lath to the wood. The lath provides an uneven surface for the first coat of plaster to adhere to, and also ensures that the other coats will stick.
The workers then carted huge buckets of water and hundreds of pounds of supplies up into the parlor. This is no small task in the 100 degree Virginia summer heat. They then mixed the base coat consisting of gypsum, sand, and water with a power mixer. After that, they apply this base, or “scratch” coat to the wire lath.
Here you can see some of their work in progress. With the next brown coat and then finish coat of plaster, the parlor will have a flat ceiling that will provide a solid base for the gorgeous Federal-style cornice. Just by looking at a plaster wall, you wouldn’t know that plasterwork is such a complex process, but seeing master workers in action can make anyone appreciate the craft and skill it takes to keep the appearance of Stratford Hall both beautiful and historically accurate. Stay tuned for more updates on the parlor’s progress!
–Wendy Madill, Preservation Summer Intern