More Than Just a Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts


Herbert Gettridge, Sr (Plasterer)

[My father] was a longshoreman out there on that riverfront. You know how most of the people here learn their trade of plastering in the city of New Orleans. The father or the uncle or the brother or a cousin—somebody in that family was a plasterer in order for the younger guys to learn it. Other than that, you couldn't get in. . . . I was about 11 or 12 years old when I left school to go to work...things was just that bad. By the time my tennis shoes got holes in 'em, I couldn't go no more for another two or three months until my mother was able to buy me a pair. [During the Depression both parents took all the work they could get, and] some went for rent, some went for food, but didn't have too much for clothing. That's why I dropped out of school, for not having sufficient enough things to go [to school] in. I figured if I could get out and get me a job, I could help my mother some, you know, and that's what I did.

The truth is I enjoyed plaster, period. Just anytime or anywhere they was going to put some plaster, more than likely I was there. . . . I worked on all kind of projects. Mainly, I learned my trade working cottage houses like this [the Gettridge home]. After cottage houses, we graduated to schools or gymnasiums and stuff like that. But it was just anything we had. . . . In the city of New Orleans, we had more plaster work than you could shake a stick at, certain periods of time. Then sometimes the work would just die out, nothing being built, so we had to leave town and go to work. Most of us went out of town. When the work picked up again, we came back.

It's always better to be in the union than not in the union. The union made conditions for us much better. You see, just before the war started, I think the plasterers were making something like 85 cents an hour. [In] 1941, when they bombed Pearl Harbor, the scale went up to a dollar an hour. That's what those guys made; eight dollars a day slinging mud and water inside and outside on the walls. And from then on, after everybody started getting back into the union, things picked up. Every two years, every year, the contract had run out. They negotiated for more money and they got it. They didn't get all what they asked for every year, but they got some of it. I think when the union broke up we were making something like fifteen dollars an hour.

A hungry plasterer. They say I must've been hungry. Why, yeah, I had to be hungry. I had nine kids. I had to feed these children. And if the temperature is 38 degrees, why couldn't I work? The sun was shining, and these guys thought it was too cold to work. So, when I got back to the hall the next couple of days, they say, "Here he come, here come that hungry plaster." I've been called everything but a child of God when it comes down to work because I loved it, the work, and I had to have money for my family.

We did it together [Herbert and wife Lydia]. I don't regret any of it though, all my kids are grown, they all got high school or college education. We didn't do bad, we paid our dues. I did most of mine with the money I made from plastering. I did odd jobs when I didn't have no work, but most of my time I was on somebody's job putting plaster on the walls. Like I say, I did it all, the cornice work in the French Quarter . . . ever been in the French Quarter and look at all that fancy work there? This is what I do. Along Canal Street, some of the buildings on the outside have decorations; that's what I do. I specialize in that. This here [flat work], I do that when I didn't have anything else to do. But any kind of decorations, let the architect draw it on a piece of paper and give it to me, and I'll put it up there.

Herbert Gettridge, Sr., was interviewed as part of the New Orleans Building Arts Project. Laura Westbrook edited More than Just A Trade: Master Craftsmen of the Building Arts in 2004 for publication online.