Ceiling repair at Frick Collection

broken plaster

Part 1 of 3

We had one day to complete this ceiling repair at The Frick Collection (1 E 70th St in Manhattan).  We received a call about a piece of plaster that had fallen from the 90 year-old ceiling in the main gallery.   Apparently, there was water damage from the roof that had left the medallion just hanging on and it eventually fell (nobody was hurt, luckily).
Being able to complete a job like this from start to finish, shows versatility.  There’s so many techniques in this “small touch-up” that we had to break it up in 3 posts:  upcoming plaster repair and making a plaster mold.

In this post, we’re focusing on the job as a whole and the decorative painting.

Main gallery.

galleryThe hole.holeThe museum gathered all of the pieces.  Luckily the main medallion was in good shape.
They were sent to our shop, where we looked at them closely.  For the sake of preservation, we did a color analysis to establish the 3 main colors used, the glazing, and  the gilding.
broken plaster To save time, we pre-mixed the values of colors and selected the gold leaf that would match.colorsOur supplies were delivered by messenger service.  In NYC, it pays to pack efficiently.  shopThe shop.  Not too shabby.  Under the watchful eye of the old masters – Franz Haltz, Turner, Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc.

shopThe area was protected.  The museum provided the work lift.broken plasterscaffold This is the hole from above.broken plasterThe pieces were affixed and filled with a casting plaster and secured to the ceiling.  See upcoming post:  Plaster ceiling repairplaster touch upFor a missing smaller ornament, a cast (purple area) was formed and we later made a mold.  See post:  How to make a moldplaster touch upOnce the ceiling was ready for paint, a coat of natural amber shellac was applied.  This is an essential step to seal the raw plaster.shellacFinished painting shellac.plaster touch upA moisture meter was used to be sure the surface was dry enough to continue painting due to the fresh plaster repair.moisture meterThis is a good reading.  At 22% moisture, it is just on the cusp.  Because the roof is open (unsealed), the moisture can continue to escape from the backside.  It was OK to continue painting.moisture meterThe base paint that was pre-mixed in the shop was applied with a detail brush (long or short pointed).plaster touch up

plaster touch upThe final decorative layer is gilding.  In this case, I used a patent 22.5K surface leafing (slightly heavier weight than regular leaf).gild toolsWater size was applied to the tips with a sable pointed brush.  The leaf was applied once the size had dried to tacky.  Rondin brushes are excellent for transferring gold leaf to a sized surface as well as applying the size.gildinFinished touch-up.plaster touch up done

plaster touch up finishedThe curator could not believe we completed the job in one day – as we were asked to do so.  And he couldn’t even spot the touch-up from below.

plaster touch up finished


  1. Greetings from Oz!
    Wow Pierre what a gig!
    Having visited the Frick Museum once, I can appreciate the enormity of the project and the time frame. Obviously being well prepared was the key and that aspect you had down pat.
    In Australia I have quoted on various heritage homes and buildings including Government House in Melbourne. Government House is a massive building in high Victorian splendour where official events and the rare visit from the Queen of England occurs.
    Again, short turn around time frames for works conducted there and sometimes they don’t allow site visits with only emailed photographs of the damage that requires repairing and painting.
    Thanks for the always interesting emails of your fascinating work. Cheers Rodney Ashton

  2. Nice work Pierre, as always. Bit surprised you are comfortable with 22% moisture, I understand the time constrain and the fact that the back of it is open to evaporation.
    I’m still soldering on at St. Pat’s, not directly involved with the plaster work, but paint wise I can’t touch anything above 5%… Any plaster repair requires automatic 28 days curing period (shellac haven’t enter the conversation yet, as per architects specs, I guess).
    So refreshing to see decent work being done, and on the clock…
    Big up! 🙂
    Trust All is Well,

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