Master plaster

Wullenweber offers specialized work
in historic preservation

He is a tradesman skilled in
ornamental creations of plaster

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(June 2009) - Terry Wullenweber is an expert at taking something old and using an even older technique to make it look new. While that sounds confusing, it’s not to Wullenweber, a master plasterer from Milan, Ind., who owns Wullenweber and Sons Plastering.

Terry Wullenweber and Joanne Siebert

Photo by Don Ward

Terry Wullenweber and
his partner Joanne
Siebert pose in front
of the state-owned Culbertson Mansion in
New Albany, Ind.,
following a recent
renovation of ceiling medallions there.

He began his career in the plaster trade as an apprentice in 1972. Today, he is at the top of his craft and has done specialized ornamental plaster work and historic restoration at many well-known historic sites throughout the state and region.
Wullenweber, 50, will be one of the historic trades people showing his craft at the June 13-14 Historic Trades Fair at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison. During Lanier Days, an event that celebrates the early-Victorian period of life in Madison, artisans will demonstrate 19th century crafts. Historic trades craftsmen will also be on hand to talk to offer visitors advice on repair and restoration of historic buildings, give information about career opportunities and explain the purpose and growing needs of their skills.
He began learning the art of plastering during his seventh grade year at school. He went out on weekend jobs with his father, Clarence, who worked for his great-uncles, Chris and Elwood Wullenweber. Clarence began his career in the trade after the 1937 Ohio River flood.
“I learned from one of the best,” said Wullenweber. “There’s nothing like going to work for your father to make you understand how things should operate.”
He said he picked up the “tricks of the trade” after years of side-by-side work with his father, and then took over running operations when Clarence retired. Today, while many plasterers have turned toward the drywall business, Wullenweber is one of the few who doesn’t work with the more modern technique of hanging wall boards. Instead, he works exclusively with the traditional plaster materials that include gypsum and sand mixtures.
“The traditional restoration and building trades are getting lost today,” said Wullenweber. “The old way is still good.”
He said there is an art to making the proper mixture of plaster, and many variables need to be considered.
“Whether a mixture is rich or poor depends on such things as humidity, water quality for the mixture and what substances need to be mixed,” he said. “You really have to know whether to add more gypsum or sand aggregate depending on the conditions that exist for that particular project.”
Historic ceiling medallions and ornate cornice work have become specialties for Wullenweber, whose restoration focus includes decorative, ornamental, conventional and veneer plastering. His work at the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany, Ind., involved tedious and time-consuming restoration of work that had acquired numerous layers of paint.

Culbertson mansion ceiling medallion

Photo by Don Ward

A restored ceiling medallion by
Terry Wullenweber is among the
renovations at the Culbertson Mansion.

“We had to take tiny little picks and meticulously remove every bit of paint from the medallions,” said assistant Joanne Siebert, who has been working with him for 15 years.
Siebert, 43, began working for Wullenweber when she found herself unemployed after a layoff from Batesville, Ind.’s Union Furniture Co.
“I began by sweeping floors and cleaning up the sites,” she said. “I then moved up to holding the lights for him while he troweled.” She said her daughter liked to joke that she was an “illuminating technician.”
Now, Siebert is considered a skilled apprentice. She does the scratch coat for many of the jobs the team works on but says she doesn’t feel ready to tackle the finish work.
I have no plans to ever go out on my own because I work for the best,” she said. She finds the work interesting and fun, particularly the ornamental work.
Some of those sites Wullenweber has worked on in addition to the Culbertson Mansion include the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison, Ind., Hillforest Mansion Victorian House Museum in Aurora, Ind., Blue Front historic property in Harrodsburg, Ky., and the Vincennes, ind., Territorial Capital.
Currently, Wullenweber is working on several restoration projects in Madison, including the Jeremiah Sullivan House, a historic property owned by Historic Madison Inc., and the Front Porch Coffee Shop and Churchill Cigars.
He is a member of the Preservation Louisville and sits on the Preservation Curriculum Advisory Board of Ivy Tech State College in Madison, Ind.

• For more information about Wullenweber and Sons Plastering, call (812) 623-2338.

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