Venetian Plaster a purist point of view. By Anthony J Fiocco
I distribute a product called FirmoLux™, a collection of Italian lime plasters and material imported from Italy and sold internationally. I decided to start this blog mainly in an attempt to bring attention to something I feel passionate about. My intention is to bring a level of quality and craftsmanship back to a trade built on generations of talented individuals that created an industry out of their hard work and gifted abilities handed down to them by their ancestors over generations. I hope this blog begins a dialog that will help us shape relationships with applicators/artisans that share in the enthusiasm of using traditional natural Italian lime plasters.
I'd like to write about the first plasterer I ever knew, my grandfather Antonio Fiocco. He was a man that made an impression on me at an early age and who immigrated to America from Villa Santo Stefano, a small village in southern Italy an hour south of Rome. He left a country on the verge of World War I and during a time Northern Italy was rapidly being industrialized. Many ordinary northern Italians saw a rise in their standard of living; while the south remained poor and somewhat backward.
Without the promise of a good education and lacking opportunities, his future in Italy seemed bleak… so he and some other young men from his village boarded in Naples, the steamship RMS Saxonia I (1900-1925) and embarked on a journey that would change the rest of their lives.
Being 17 years old, I can only imagine the excitement and fear he was experiencing, but I'm sure his decision to leave was an easy one. He traveled to America and with him brought dreams and aspirations for a better life; one that allowed him to earn and benefit from his hard work and labors in a land where "the streets are paved in gold". He was welcomed to Ellis Island 101 years ago last month with only $27 in his pockets.
Like many that journeyed with him on those ships crossing the Atlantic, they assimilated into the American lifestyle and culture. They were proud of the heritage but thrilled about their new beginning and country. Some achieved greatness because of their determination, old world craftsmanship and an inner strength to become the best at what they did. He used to tell me that he was a painter… and this was always confusing for me because I never saw him with a paint brush nor did I see him paint. It wasn't until years later while on a trip to Italy that I discovered that the craftsman that applied plaster (called "stucco" in Italy and pronounced/stew…koe/ in Italian); were referred to as painters and proudly wore long white lab coats with white paper style hats… a uniform and icon of their trade then and still today. I still have a vision of him with his white lab coat… a doctor of plaster.
He found his way to the honeymoon capital of the world, Niagara Falls, a city brimming predominantly with Italian and Polish immigrants and a sprinkle of Irishman to make things interesting. Niagara Falls was also enjoying the boom of the industrial revolution and there were plenty of jobs for the boat of immigrants that arrived. There were chemical, automotive, and steel factories working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week… and as a result created a construction boom that swallowed up the talents of a man like Antonio.
His passion for his craft can still be seen and felt today in the homes he plastered in that bustling community located on the Niagara River that separated the United States from Canada. He lived within shouting distance to the River and could see Canada from his home on Chilton Ave.
With his signature ceiling designs, he went on to become a celebrated decorative plasterer known for ornate ceiling designs done with plaster and his arsenal of hand crafted trowels and tools. Did it take an advanced understanding of geometry and asymmetric design to create these balanced patterns, or was it a gift that just came naturally? I believe it was both, but not something learned in a classroom because he was educated on the walls and ceilings of his community.
About 15 years ago I had the chance to see a dining room in an old Victorian home in the Deveaux neighborhood of Niagara Falls, where his handiwork was displayed liberally. The workmanship was remarkable… the look was vibrant and contemporary for its day. Today, most require a computer to graph out patterns and stencils to achieve the same look. His talent is a living legacy to his life and I'm very proud to be his grandson and share his story with you. He died on June 1st, 1970, and the memories of this gentle man live on in the many grandchildren that adored him.
So, what does my Grandpa Antonio have to do with why I wrote this blog? First, I'd like to try to return to a time when craftsmanship and work ethics were the centerfold to quality and integrity in peoples work, and something that their family can look back on 100 years from now and be proud of the mark they left. In speaking with many applicators, builders, architects, designers and home owners, I sense a return to this era of quality and craftsmanship. It's evident in the many projects our products are involved with worldwide as people are starting to return to a place where quality and craftsmanship brings them a sense of style that will live on for generations.
I've been involved with the product North Americans call "Venetian Plaster" or Stucco Veneziano for some time now. In reality, Venetian plaster is not a product but a look or design. This phrase or term has been abused since it became popular in the United States and never as much as it has over the past 3-4 years. Today, this product is sold in metal cans, plastic buckets and in 50 pound bags that you mix with water and can buy at any home builder store or paint company. The problem is that these products are as authentic or Italian as a Gucci handbag sold on blankets in Times Square. They also have none of the natural qualities or ingredients found in authentic plasters that come from Italy. Basically they are knockoffs or synthetic pretenders that offer none of the design qualities or healthy benefits offered by our natural green building product. The worst part is it usually takes more time and money than using real plasters. Some applicators try to find short cuts and take advantage of the popularity but the ultimate victim is the consumer as well as the applicator themselves when they find that these products don’t live up to the claims these companies proclaim.
"I'm trying desperately to bring the standard and quality of product and application to a level it deserves. Many consumers today have a bad impression of the product because they have seen so many bad examples by applicators that are using these faux plasters and are not trained or they themselves don't understand the differences."
So whether you are a contractor, applicator, designer or homeowner, I hope that you'd consider using products that have been in use for multiple generations instead of products newly created to profit off the popularity of a true renaissance product, a product everyone tries to replicate but fails at so miserably.
Contact us for more information about product, training or for an applicator that is the perfect fit for your residential or commercial project.
"The quality of what you do determines the quality of your life…Have the vision to create something wonderful, something that has true value forever."
― Steven Redhead, The Solution
“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”
― Henry Ford
Reproductions allowed with credit (©MMXIII, FirmoLux™) and a link to www.VenetianPlaster.it