Scagliola - Synthetic "Marble"

Scagliola - Synthetic "Marble"

SYNTHETIC “MARBLE”

Beautiful Columns Apparently From Italian Quarries Grace the Modern Public Buildings – Molded on the Spot by an Ingenious Process. (From the New York Times, 5/13/23)

As you enter the lobby of the new hotel, bank or theatre you are impressed with the marble fittings-pillars, walls, panels or railings. If you have been a globe trotter and have visited Italy you are struck by the fact that you have seen in some of the churches of Rome, Naples, Florence and Lucca, or in those of Maureen Hewlett’s Road in Tuscany, in out-of-the-way places, the same kind of marble, beautifully veined in variegated colors. You readily believe that the marble in your metropolitan bank or playhouse was quarried in Italy.

That is possible, but extremely unlikely. The marble was probably made in the building itself during its construction-made, not quarried-just inside the door, where any passerby, if he were sufficiently interested, could step in and watch the making. Such a passerby did step inside the lobby of the new Winter Garden the other day and see such marble being manufactured.

Though the stone itself does not come from Italy, the process does, and sons of Italy are the only ones who are skilled in its application, their number in the country being limited to a few score and the firms employing them being only a round dozen. According to these workmen, the process was discovered and first used by the monks in Italy in the construction of churches five hundred years ago. It was perhaps, they say, that same monk who discovered plaster casts one day through the simple act of accidentally dropping plaster on his bare foot. When he stooped to remove the plaster he found a cast of his foot.

The marble is called Pavonazzo and the process Scagliola.  The workman first lays a piece of oilcloth on a table.  Next he unravels skeins of silk of various colors, brown, black, blue, red and green, and forms them into a net.  These he places overlapping each other, on the oilcloth.  He then places wet cement over them, the cement being of a certain kind manufactured only in England and costing $36 a bag.  The silk nets are then withdrawn and washed in water, to be used over again until all the color has been extracted from them.  Cement is mixed with the water in which the skeins have been washed and is then placed in the interstices made by the withdrawal of the silk nets, the cement being a mixture of colors.

The cement is then carefully smoothed until its surface is perfectly level.  Over it is placed cheesecloth.  On the cheesecloth is placed a layer of dry plaster.  After a few moments the cheesecloth is rolled up with the dry plaster, which, like the silk, is used over again.  At no stage of the operation is there waste.  When the cheesecloth is removed there is revealed a slab of cement about the consistency of putty, in which there has been, imprinted all the colors of the silk nets, these colors having struck through from the bottom to the top. Two workmen, one taking each end, then lift up the oilcloth and carry it to the point where it is to be placed.  Being still plastic, it can be molded into any shape, for a column, box rail, panel or any desired form. The whole operation has not taken more than twenty minutes.

Inverting the oilcloth, the workmen slap the front down on the base, and what few inches there may be over or under the desired size are easily subtracted or added. The surface is then smoothed, after which a workman with a graving tool goes over it and “cleans up” the color veins, eliminating ragged edges and making the surface present the appearance of natural marble.  After a few days, still other workmen go over the surface with polishing stones, and when they are done none but the expert would know the difference between the manufactured product and the finest marbles from the most renowned quarries of the world. Pavonazzo lasts for centuries, as it has in the churches of Italy.

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