If you see Wendell Bradley in the Periodicals Department, most likely he is searching for colors and textures as well as information on new building materials and technologies in magazines dealing with design, building, and architecture. His favorite titles are Architectural Record, Architectural Digest, Mother Earth News, and Dwell. Dwell, according to Bradley, is “pushing the envelope in terms of environmental awareness.”
Bradley does not throw around the term “wall” loosely, without care and precision. You might think you have walls in your house, but talk to Wendell Bradley for a few minutes and he might persuade you otherwise. Bradley specializes in architectural coatings: gypsum, sheetrock, Venetian plasters, interior/exterior painting. He is one of the few artisans around who is familiar with old-fashioned plaster techniques. He says that people often refer to him as a “living dinosaur.” So when a developer wants to restore a building in a historic district or wants to receive historic preservation tax credits on a project, Bradley is the man.
Wendell Bradley gestures toward a finished plaster wall. It’s ready for paint.
“Plaster gives you a true wall,” says Bradley. Currently he is restoring the plaster walls of the grand Victorian mansion at 516 Park Avenue. The building, which once housed the eminent Baltimore physician, Ferdinand Chatard, as well as the state headquarters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, is being turned into condos.
Bradley’s company is called SOLA Architectural Coatings. He works with Venetian, lime-based, and clay plasters. He has also worked with straw bale construction on two projects in the Washington, DC area. He finds his work with these natural materials rewarding because it combines his interests in ethnography, art, environmental sustainability, and holistic healing.
Bradley explains the process of foundation plastering to a Pratt librarian by means of his sample board. The top section of the board is the scratch coat, the middle section is the base coat, and the bottom section is the lime coat or finish coat.
Bradley has been to Ghana twice and Nigeria five times, pursuing his ethnographic studies. He first became aware of the preservative qualities of lime when his interest in Egyptology led to the insight that the pyramids have lasted so long because of the lime used in their construction.
Stop Bradley for a chat in the Periodicals Department, and he is likely to enthuse over “living walls” or the “health modalities” of building materials. He might even try to convince you to let him experiment with your roof. Whatever the focus of the conversation, his enthusiasm is infectious.
Bradley adds gauging plaster to water in a plasterer’s doughnut. The outer wall is lime. He is making the lime coat.