Preservation Magazine, Fall 2018

Tales of the Trowel: A Plasterer on Why She Fell in Love With This Timeless Material

Lauren Dillon, executive designer at Master of Plaster Finishing Systems in Columbia, South Carolina, learned the trade from the best. She grew up watching her father, a skilled plaster subcontractor, wield his trowel at notable sites such as Market Hall and the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston. Dillon now runs Master of Plaster, which creates small-batch hydrated lime plasters that are sought out across the country.

Dillon's firm Master of Plaster repaired the 18th-century Unitarian Church ceiling in Charleston, South Carolina.

photo by: Lauren Dillon

Family Trade

In 2010, Dillon’s father, Kirk, bought the firm from a ninth-generation plasterer. Dillon joined that year after studying urban planning in Dublin, Ireland, where she fell in love with the historic city’s elaborate plasterwork. “Plaster is an art form. It’s such a versatile material, and I was very drawn to it.”

Formula One

Dillon meets with architects and designers interested in the firm’s formulas, and trains other plasterers in the best application methods. She also creates color palettes for renovations and new buildings. Some of her clients are attracted simply to the aesthetic of a plaster wall. Others are drawn to its sustainable nature: The five-person crew at Master of Plaster uses formulas, absent of synthetics or acrylics, that were originally developed by the previous owner’s family in the 17th century.

The Big Picture

The company’s portfolio ranges from private residences to prominent sites, including the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. But no matter how many high-profile projects it takes on, Master of Plaster is at its core a boutique firm of dedicated artisans. “We don’t just sell our materials online. We want to have conversations and develop relationships with people.”

Plasterer Lauren Dillon teaches a seminar on plaster backgrounds to photographers and artists.

photo by: Brittany Beryl Photography

Eye Candy

Dillon’s passion for authentic lime plaster, combined with a willingness to share her knowledge, drives traffic to her Instagram account (@masterofplasterusa), where she artfully illustrates that the process is just as elegant as the result. “Plaster is a visual medium, but the science of it can be intimidating. Instagram offers transparency. I’m able to show the possibilities of plaster in both new designs and preservation.”

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and an assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

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