Children exploring the cast collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1931 (1)
On Thursday last I visited the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art office in New York to offer general advice about the decoration of their rooms. While there, I was impressed again by the quality of the Historic Plaster Cast Collection lining their walls.
Pieces from the ICAA’s Historic Plaster Cast Collection (2)
Richard Cameron, founder and director of the Beaux Arts Atelier at the Institute, was there with me, and this lead to a broad conversation about the marvels of this seemingly lowly material. Indeed, we started with our childhood art projects—making rustic plaster models — and made our way to the more sophisticated levels of sculpture and architectural decoration where its richer legacies can be found.
These are a few of my favorite examples of this often uncelebrated material.
The head of the Marseillaise for the Arc de Triomphe at the Trocadero Palace (3)
The ‘Cast Courts’ in the South Kensington Museum (now Victoria & Albert Museum) (4)
Storeroom with Artisans and Plaster Casts, Crystal Palace, 1852 (5)
Sculpture Gallery, Boston Athenaeum, circa 1855 (6)
The Dome area of Sir John Soane’s Museum, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London (7)
I would also like to call attention to Stephen Shubel’s handsome California home filled with plaster sculptures in the July/August 2012 issue of House Beautiful. More images from this project photographed by Luca Trovato may be seen here.
Stephen Shubel’s house featured in July/August 2011 House Beautiful (8)
And for those of you that want to learn more about the history of this remarkable material and its preservation, the National Park Service’s Department of the Interior website has a thorough brief on the topic.
I hope this post inspires others to trumpet plaster’s praises and draws attention to the beauty of its many forms.
A cornice by artist Tom Otterness in a hall of a collector’s apartment. (More images of our work here will be featured in my upcoming book, American Decoration). (9)
(1) Cast Collection photo courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
(2) Historic Plastercast Collection photo by Thomas Jayne
(3) Photo by Fonds Henri Olivier, Médiathèque du Patrimoine, French Ministry of Culture
(4) Cast Courts, Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum
(5) Crystal Palace photo by Philip Henry Delamotte
(6) Boston Athenaeum photo by Albert Sands Southworth
(7) The Dome at the Soane Museum photo by Richard Bryant
(8) Shubel house photo by Luca Trovato
(9) Hall photo by Pieter Estersohn