The Thomas residence was
built in the 1920s in Old Enfield, Austin, Texas. In 1992, Donald Moraweitz,
MoBar Plaster Contractors, brought me a box of shattered plaster. The box
contained hundreds of broken pieces.
Plumbing had leaked upstairs
above the dining room at the Thomas home. The plumbers who had undertaken
the repair job made a big mistake. Attempting to access the problem from
below, they proceeded to cut through the flat part of the plaster ceiling
below the second floor master bath. Mrs. Thomas told me that she was upstairs
in her study, when a plumber came in and informed her that the centerpiece
in her dining room was about to fall. She said that was all right, if it
does we'll get a new one. This room is large (24'x45'x10'ceiling) and the
centerpiece was appropriately sized at 38". About an hour later she said
the plumber came up again and told her he thought the entire ceiling might
be falling. At this point she said she decided to go down and have a look.
One of the plumbers was
standing in the dining room, and two others were looking in from an adjoining
room. Soon after she looked in one plumber warned the other to get the
"heck" out of there. About the time he got out, Mrs. Thomas says the ceiling
began to drop at one end and proceeded to peel off and crash to the floor
filling the house with dust and a tremendous sound. The weight of the falling
debris destroyed most of the antique furniture and everything else in the
room. The floor in this area is a hardwood parquet style 300 years old
and imported from Europe were it had been dismantled in the 1920s. I can't
remember the name of the castle she said it came from. Fortunately the
floor was not damaged significantly. One of her cats was under the settee
and was safe there, but he won't come back in the house now.
I told her that the incident
was sure a shame, and she replied "no, it was cool".
Mrs. Thomas told the plumbers
to call MoBar, who had done some work on the stucco exterior, and soon
he brought me the box full of "samples". The impact had broken the centerpiece
into many dozens of pieces. It was like an impossible jigsaw puzzle. It
is an elaborate circular piece with seven rings that radiate out beginning
with an 8 sided flower. The next ring consists of 16 tongues, then 32 balls,
16 acanthus leaves, 16 tulips & leaves, a rope with 84 wraps, and then
48 more tongues.
Reassembly of the original
would be next to impossible, so I decided to put one quarter of the ornament
back together, refine this assembly, and make a mold. Then after casting
four pieces they would be reinstalled. First the 1080 sq. ft. ceiling would
have to be rebuilt.
After the ceiling was
finished with three coats of gypsum plaster, the third being whitened with
plaster of paris, the medallion was replanted in it's original location,
and the cornice was run in place (138 feet with four intersections). This
consisted of a very handsome profile with a row of egg and darts, and a
row of acanthus leaves and beads and reeds, applied after the profile was
run. The appliqués were also in the box, broken up, although not
as badly as the centerpiece. Apparently the shock of meeting the floor
was not as violent. These pieces were also rebuilt and new molds made in
I have published images
that are samples of the centerpiece and the cornice that can be viewed
by clicking here.