The Art of Plastering

An interview with George O’Malley

by Christine Casey

The CRAFTVALUE conference ‘Craftsmanship and its conservation in the architecture of Britain and Ireland 1660-1760’, convened on October 30,th included an interview I undertook with George O’Malley entitled ‘The art of plastering’. The interview was filmed at O’Malley Plastering in Bray, County Wicklow, on October 6th and was subsequently edited by Andrew Tierney. George recalls his apprenticeship as a plasterer, learning the craft from his father and uncle, and discusses his subsequent career of more than four decades, embracing plain, decorative and conservation plasterwork. He explores the relationship of the craftsman and conservation architect, the place of traditional skills in contemporary society and the use of plastering tools. In an eloquent analogy, George refers to his mother’s skill at baking as exactly the kind of tacit knowledge which underlies all manual crafts.

I came to know George O’Malley during my research on eighteenth-century Italian stuccatori in Britain and Ireland, which culminated in the publication of Making magnificence: architects, stuccatori and the eighteenth-century interior (Yale University Press, 2017). This led to visits with students from Trinity College to the O’Malley studio in Bray and a site visit in 2013 to view ongoing conservation work at Longford Cathedral. Subsequent site visits by TCD staff and students included Belvedere House and the Four Courts in Dublin. These on-site seminars were enormously valuable in demonstrating traditional plastering techniques and in raising complex questions relating to the conservation process.

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