Masters of their Craft
They have gingerly restored ornate and crumbling ceilings while perched on scaffolds up to 90 feet in the air. They have reproduced historic paintings, transformed wallboard into marble, sculpted gardens of plaster rosettes, gilded luxury apartment buildings, painted heaven inside a church, and served royals and ‘presidents.’
They are Mariah Gillis of Thomas Moore Studio and Julian Davis of Hayles & Howe, Inc. – BC&E’s newest Master Craftsmen.
A 1997 graduate of Towson University with a BFA in painting, Gillis has won Craftsmanship Awards for her work on the Garrett Jacobs Mansion, Lovely Lane Church, the Bank of America Building, the Tremont Grand Hotel and, most recently, Clifton Mansion. She is the first woman to be named a BC&E Master Craftsman.
Gillis loves solving the puzzles that historic properties inevitably present from unravelling the mystery of what paintings and decorative flourishes lay beneath nearly a century of paint at Clifton Mansion to determining how to match the hues and textures of historic paintings with modern and non-toxic materials to deciphering the makeup of a huge, gilded ceiling at 10 Light Street.
“It was a big, barrel vault ceiling in the lobby with these raised plaster chevron shapes and big sunbursts, and it looked like it was covered in gold leaf, but it couldn’t have been gold leaf because that would have been prohibitively expensive,” Gillis said.
The leaf turned out to be aluminum. To restore its original golden color, Gillis airbrushed it over and over again with layers of amber shellac.
Born in Bath, UK, Davis spent nearly a decade learning and working as an ornamental and master plasterer before immigrating to America. His work on the Congress Hotel, the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, Martin’s Valley Mansion, First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church and City House have earned him Craftsmanship Awards.
“I love to work on projects that master craftsmen created long ago,” Davis said. “When you are working on projects 100 years old or more, you see their craftsmanship and skill, and you’re in awe of how people created these intricate, beautiful things without the modern tools we have today. And then you have to figure out how to repair them.”
Those repairs sometimes require extraordinary efforts, like the restoration of the enormous, coved ceiling at Washington D.C’s Union Station.
“A big stretch of plaster ornamentation had started to deteriorate, crack and move,” he said.
Workers had to erect scaffolding both above and below the ceiling which peaks at 96 feet high, create a unique system of washers and other attachments to wire the plaster into a framework, then meticulously restore all the surfaces.
The work of a master craftsman – or woman – can lead to extraordinary and unusual locations.
After a fire damaged Windsor Castle, Davis worked on restoring fibrous and in-situ plasterwork in the Octagon Dining Room, State Dining Room, Equerries Landing and the Star Chamber. The project won the Humber Silver Salver Award for Plastering in 1998 and prompted a letter of recommendation from Queen Elizabeth II. In recent years, Gillis has served as “key greensman” for “House of Cards.” Responsible for ensuring that exterior views match the script and shooting requirements, Gillis has done everything from creating life-size (and mobile) trees to making a Baltimore residential property in mid-February look like a perennial garden in full bloom in July.