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


Louis Alexander (Plasterer)

You have to want to learn. You don't learn a trade just because of the money. If you like something, you are going to be that much better at it. I've seen times where I was running work and had a guy on the job and I would tell him the way to do work, and he would say, "Well I'm going to get the same thing you get." That's the wrong attitude to become a journeyman. If someone tell you that your work is bad, try to correct it. Don't take the attitude that, "Whatever you get, I'm going to get." I'm earning mine; they giving you yours. That's the difference. Neatness and appearance is what makes a good journeyman. The right tools.

I was just turned out when we got married [Shirley Scott Alexander's uncle, plasterer Claibert Abrams, did the cornice work in the Saenger Theater]. I was just getting to know all the plasterers because that's where you get your jobs, from the people that you know. They know you and they will recommend you to someone else. If you are bad they'll talk about you too! But you won't get no jobs from that conversation! . . . I had my daddy and three uncles that were plasterers—Hubert Alexander, Lawrence Alexander, and Manuel Alexander, my daddy, my great-grandpa, Xavier Alexander. If we had them all together, we could have had a big company!

The majority of the plasterers in this city was black. They had some white plasterers that came in here. They had some white plasterers here that was originally from here. We had no problem with race. Not in the plaster trade. I was the president of the plaster local for the longest. . . . We all worked on the job as plasterers. All that other stuff came up after us. On the job, you was just a plasterer. You were just a good plasterer or a bad plasterer. You had to be good. People wanted their house plastered, and that's what they were looking for.

They should teach trades in school . . . Let them know that you can make a darn good living at it. If necessary, get some of them into shops and let them work a couple of hours a day while they are in school. If they go to school in the morning and get their basic education, then the last three or four hours a day let them go work with a contractor to get them a salary. If you take a child going to school, if he can make a couple of dollars, he might not want to try and sell drugs. Or might not want to buy no drugs because his mind is occupied and he's doing something that he wants. Boredom causes people to drink and use drugs. If you take a person and you keep their mind occupied, they don't have time for that stuff. If he learn a trade, if he don't go to college, he can go on a job and do a decent day's work and learn how to make an honest dollar. A person that beg don't have much pride. If you got it and I can't buy it, you can keep it. I'm not going to give anybody no chance to look down on me. I want you to look up at me.

There is a house on Rosa Park; I did some finish work there. They had some ornamental work on the ceiling. Then they had a border in the ceiling that looked like beads made out of plaster. They was all around the perimeter of the ceiling. I had to make a molding for that. The way I did that, I took some of the existing beads off and I made a mold about two foot long and I took some twine and stretched the twine throughout the mold and poured the plaster over it. After the plaster got hard I had a length of beads about two-foot long. That's what I put back in the ceiling. I put some adhesive to the back of the beads and stuck them up along the line on a ceiling. Made it look like the original.

Louis Alexander 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.