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Restoring History: Pythian Building honors Original Owners

By Green Coast on 31 Jan 2017

Chris Caravella-Jones clay model of cornucopia for Pythian Building’s tympanum. 
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Chris Caravella-Jones clay model of cornucopia for Pythian Building’s tympanum.

Stepping into the Poree Plastering Company warehouse is like stepping back in time. The 15,000-square-foot warehouse and casting shop holds such a vast array of decorative plaster work—ceiling roses, crown molding, medallions, intricate beadwork, domes, arches, lions, gargoyles and other pieces—that it feels like a plaster and casting shop from a century ago.

But the shop, which is under the direction of owner Jeff Poree, a fifth generation master plasterer, actually ties the past to the future, restoring the city’s classic plaster and stone artifices, and sometimes recreating that work. It’s the latter case when it comes to the tympana that will adorn two of the doorways at the nine-story Pythian Building.

Painter Vlada Jones and her husband, Chris Caravella-Jones, a stone sculptor and caster, are Poree in-house artists, and the couple teamed up with studioWTA on the design. S.W. Green originally constructed the building, which included decorative tympana above the ground floor entrances, in 1908 for the Colored Knights of the Pythias. Scott Crane led the design process for studioWTA and says the team wanted the design to reflect the first owners and welcome visitors as they enter the doors to the new Pythian Market.

“At the center of each tympanum is a cartouche that includes the Knights of Pythias Coat of Arms with adjacent flaming torches,” Crane says. “Sculpted cornucopias of local vegetables and seafood flank the sides of the cartouche to complete the tympanum design.”

It’s unlikely there are many cornucopias that feature mirlitons, okra, crawfish, oysters, crabs, and catfish, but Vlada Jones included them in the full-length sketch that her husband is working off for the cartouche’s clay model. Caravella-Jones says he had to make a few changes in the design once he started sculpting.

“Celery looks good on paper, but it gets lost in the sculpture, so I dropped it and added strawberries and spicy peppers,” Caravella-Jones says. “The catfish face is pretty challenging and I’m still trying to get it right.”

Caravella-Jones says the entire process for the tympanum, which is 10 feet, four inches wide and four feet tall, will take about 45 days to complete. Once the clay model is finished, Caravella-Jones will pour and brush polyurethane over it, creating a rubber cast, or, as he puts it, a negative. Caravella-Jones will then use the negative to produce the cast stone versions, which will eventually be displayed over the Pythian Building doorways for many years to come.

“Managing the cartouche and tympanum design and fabrication has been my favorite part of the project,” Crane says. “We chose this design to honor the African American fraternal organization that made this building possible. Long after we’re gone the tympana will still be here as a gift back to the city that has given us so much.”

Categories: Development

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