American College of the Building Arts

Pierre Finkelstein visits the American College of Building arts in Charleston, SC

At the end March, 2014, I attended the American College of the Building Arts annual festival in Charleston, SC.  My friend and fellow decorative artisan, Patrick Webb invited me down to visit and give a few lectures to students.  Patrick is an instructor of plaster works and asked me to teach his students about my techniques on rendering ornaments with paint.

plaster school

The American College of the Building Arts was licensed in July 2004 by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education The college offers a four-year liberal arts curriculum in six craft specializations within three areas: forged architectural iron, the trowel trades (masonry, plaster, and architectural stone) and the wood trades (carpentry and timber framing).

carpentry and ironworks school

MISSION:  The American College of the Building Arts educates and trains artisans in the traditional building arts to foster exceptional craftsmanship and encourage the preservation, enrichment, and understanding of the world’s architectural heritage through a liberal arts education.

history of decorative painting lecture

The first day, I gave a lecture about the history of decorative painting.  I explained how the terminology for “artist” and “artisan” have differentiated throughout the centuries.

tour of charleston architecture

Later, we walked around downtown Charleston on a guided tour of Classical Architecture.  The tour was guided by Dom Forte of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art of Southern California.  Charleston has a fantastic sampling of classical architecture.

bubbles and truffles event

Here I am at a “bubbles and truffles” party in a beautiful mansion in the city.  Hosted by the college.

the college is in a jail

This is the college.  It’s actually in an old jail!   Fantastic place.

pierre exchanging plaster recipies

Here I am chatting with the students and professional plaster specialists.  We were exchanging recipes for plaster.

plaster school room

The workspace for the trowel trades.

student works

Student study of plaster molds.

ornament lecture

I gave another lecture slide show on the painted ornament.  I focused on the European styles of the French and Italian styles of rendering ornaments.

demonstration of ornamentation

Finally, I ended the day with a lecture on how I paint an ornament.  I completed a medallion study in front of the crowd.

lecture room for plaster

This was such a cool weekend.  I am so excited for this kind of proper school for craftsman.  The United States has miles to catch up with the trade schools of the rest of the world.  It is exciting to be a part of it!


  1. I love your work .

  2. I’m so glad that you are part of this because through craftsmen, like yourself, we can continue to elevate the trade here in the States! Also, South Carolina is a great place to hang out, isn’t it?

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