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Lubbock craftsman restoring Fort Worthapostrophe1212s Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas - It is impossible to enter the Texas
& Pacific railroad passenger terminal lobby and not look up.
The best artwork is on the ceiling -- it IS the ceiling.

There, in all its molded plaster glory, is 5,520 square feet
of art deco swirls, angles, leaves and flowers laid out in an
intricate symmetrical style known as Zigzag Moderne.

It still leaves visitors with neck strain, 68 years after it
was finished in 1931 and 32 years after the last railroad passenger
pondered its pattern in 1967.

But time and water have pockmarked the plaster and it is Matt
Henson, a 42-year-old plasterer from Lubbock, who is doing most
of the neck straining.

Working on a scaffold within easy head-bumping distance of
the 32-foot tall ceiling, Henson is restoring the plaster, section
by section. He is replacing the most damaged areas with newly
molded pieces.

He uses methods that have been current since Roman times to
recast the plaster sections. He slathers polyurethane on an undamaged
section identical to the one he is replacing (the Romans used
animal glue). He supports the rubberlike material with a framework
of plaster reinforced with hemp fiber. And he waits for it all
to cure.

Eighteen hours or so later, Henson carefully peels off the
mold. That is the most exciting part, he said. The fact that polyurethane
costs about $100 per gallon adds to the tension, if not excitement.

If the mold works, Henson can cast as many replacement parts
as he needs. There are four places on the ceiling and walls that
need replacing and dozens of places that must be rebuilt with
plaster and a small putty knife.

Henson said he was 10 when he joined his father in the plaster
business, learning how to smooth out walls and create sharp straight
lines. But he did not learn about decorative plaster until five
years ago when he worked with an aging craftsman restoring the
Windsor Hotel in Abilene. His mentor had worked for the U.S. Army
restoring European castles that U.S. occupation forces damaged
in World War II, he said.

Plastering a smooth flat wall is more difficult, Henson said,
but molding art deco is infinitely more satisfying.

Henson expects to be finished by mid-April. Another contractor
will paint the ceiling, and the restoration should be finished
in November. Rail passengers will return to the station in spring
of 2001 when the Trinity Railway Express is expected to run daily
service between Fort Worth and Dallas.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Rodger Mallison