BJ Smith Carpentry-Woodworking, Trimwork & Plastering 215-378-0622
Knowledge & Restoration of Things Old
Local Man Plasters NJ Statehouse Dome
Jerry Smith was an actor. Now he’s a carpenter who picked up the disappearing art of plastering.
Jerry Smith is a master carpenter who picked up plastering skills and earned himself a job helping to restore the dome of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton.
That’s an odd progression for a man who started out as an actor in New York City. But Smith just sees it as part of the arts. Woodworking and plastering just have more practical applications and come with a better lifestyle than acting, he said.
That’s why he gave up acting after about 10 years and mad carpentry, previously a part-time income booster, his full-time job.
Between wood and plaster, Smith expects to stay busy. “Look around this room. What do you see? You see wood and plaster, basically,” he said gesturing at the walls, ceiling, molding and bookshelves in the coffee lounge where he spoke.
Dressed in a tweed jacket, plum polo shirt and jeans, the bearded Smith looked more like an off-duty professional-or an actor on a talk show-than a tradesmen at the end of his work day.
Smith moved to Lower Makefield last year after his wife, Vivian, also a former actor, took and administrative position with Newtown Friends School. He started handing out resumes and on ended up in the hands of a man who works for Evergreen Paint Studios, a large New York company that does restoration, renovations and conservation work.
Evergreen, it turned out, desperately needed a plaster to replaster the Statehouse Rotunda walls and restore decorative plasterwork above. So Smith has been working on the project for the past 5 months. The plastering is pretty much done, but he’s still helping out on the woodwork.
“It’s just a wonderful thing to be involved with because of all the trades you don’t see a lot of” he said.
Besides plastering and woodwork, the project involves murals, gilding and iron work.
Many of the workers are artist who work in the construction trade to make money, which makes them interesting to work with, Smith said. He has much better conversation on the job than at cocktail parties, he said.
Smith got into woodworking as a kid when he started whittling with a carving knife his father gave him. And he helped out around the house a lot because his chef father was all thumbs. Smith remembers fixing a door at the age of eight.
Then he studied theater in college and helped make the sets on which he acted. When he went to New York to act, though, he took a job as a waiter. But one day a friend got him a job stripping furniture in an old house and he started talking to a man restoring a staircase.
“I just said, ‘hey this is for me’”
While still acting, Smith worked for a cabinetmaker, making cabinets and renovating New York brownstones. When is and his wife decided to leave acting to raise their boys, now 13 and 10, they moved to Rockland County NY. Smith mostly worked on additions and decks of suburbia. “But I still found myself drawn to fixing what was old,” he said.
And he still works on a combination of projects. He works on restoration, but he also makes new things, specializing in trim work such as shelves and moldings.
He picked up plastering along the way. In a collection of newpapers dating back to the 1850’s that he inherited, Smith found hundreds of ads looking for plasterers. But demand has fallen of sharply since the advent of sheetrock in the 1940’s.
Smith doesn’t think the craft will ever die, though.
A plastered wall and moldings and so forth, there’s still nothing like them. There solid. They’re good in a fire, he said. And except for a few cracks, they stand the test of time.
Smith enjoys woodworking because it’s an ancient craft with lots of disciplines (turning, marquetry, furniture making, etc.) and the material is organic, he said. But he’s come to enjoy plastering just as much.
“There’s something even more organic about working with plaster,” he said. “It’s a simple thing. It’s been around since time began…it give you the feeling that your working with something very simple.”
A few tools turn a liquid into something beautiful, he said.
Sometimes Smith, who has appeared in an off-Broadway play, misses acting and singing on stage. But he is thinking of joining a local acting troop.
~Amy Neff Roth-Bucks County Courier Times~
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