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Plaster Masters

Simone Bodmer-Turner, Cala Lily, 2022

 Simone Bodmer-Turner, Cala Lily, 2022

Using plaster as a building and decorative material dates back to at least 7000BC. The mixture—of clay, or ground gypsum and water, which hardens as it dries—was used as mortar and to give walls a smooth finish. By the Middle Ages, white gypsum plaster was used to make decorative moldings, as a base for frescoes, and to make cheap plaster casts of bronze or marble sculptures.

Sculptors also recognized the creative potential of plaster since a solid block can be easily carved and shaped. Then, in the early 20th century, it began to be used as a medium in its own right, notably by Alexander Archipenko and Pablo Picasso. Recently, designers too have seen its potential, either on its own or as part of a composite material, such as in the Plasterglass furniture— a mixture of fiberglass and plaster—made by Ralph Pucci.

Simone Bodmer-Turner, Joust

Simone Bodmer-Turner, Joust

The founders of the studio Voukenas Petrides, Andreas Voukenas and Steven Petrides, hand-fabricate side tables, chairs, and lights using the material. They say that the liveliness of their organic forms is partly a result of working with mesh and plaster.

Brooklyn-based Simone Bodmer-Turner also makes furniture using clay and plaster. “The reason I am so drawn to this medium is because of the tactile, quiet interactivity of building each piece,” she has said. “It forces the viewer to interact with the piece—to pull on a suspended ball to turn the light on, to grasp a seed-shaped knob to pull a drawer.”

Reynold Rodriguez, The Dreamer (the table that dreamt of being light)

Reynold Rodriguez, The Dreamer (the table that dreamt of being light)

Reynold Rodriguez, a designer based in Puerto Rico, discovered plaster during lockdown. He loves the variety and spontaneity it offers. “You come out with something very different every time,” he says. “There is a passion in the process because plaster is so forgiving. It doesn’t hold a grudge like wood or stone do.”

His startling table, “The Dreamer (the table that dreamt of being light),” was born from the idea of a table that wanted to become a light: “I was thinking about objects that yearn to be something else, as fluidly as plaster can become something else.”

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