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Students Recreate the Great Hall Plaster Ceiling

Education, Research

Posted by Bethany Costilow, American College of the Building Arts

This autumn, Drayton Hall played host to students from the American College of the Building Arts, turning the beloved monument of Charleston’s architectural history into a working classroom. The four students in the intermediate Stone Carving and Plaster Working programs underwent a semester-long project to survey and recreate the famed decorative plaster ceiling in the Great Hall. To begin, the students received a tutorial from Matt Webster, former director of preservation, on the history of Drayton Hall, the ceiling, and the historic materials and techniques used there. Next, they documented the ceiling by taking detailed measurements and photographs. Carter Hudgins, interim director of preservation, then compiled these images into a comprehensive photographic map, a new resource for the Drayton archives.

Students next chose elements from the ceiling to draft and subsequently model in clay. These clay models were, in turn, covered in urethane to create moulds into which gypsum plaster was poured to create a cast of the modeled element. The students then went on to lay out the medallion in the same proportions as those of the original piece and install it, full-scale, with a portion of the border.

This work is on display inside the ACBA workshop on the Navy Yard at Noisette. A catalog of the student’s drawings and photographs from the process will be a permanent part of the Drayton Hall archives. Also, the College will retain the measurements, photographs and moulds to ensure that the ceiling can be restored to its current condition should the need arise.

For more information on ACBA, its mission and student work, visit the College’s website: The students and the College thank Drayton Hall for the unique opportunity to experience the landmark building so intimately; it has been an invaluable learning experience for aspiring conservators of America’s building heritage.

Images of the recreated ceiling can be seen below.  Click on any of the images for a larger view.