The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Paper, Plaster, and Wood

I have always had a fascination with plaster work. Not drywall, but true lathe and plaster, and I have no idea why. I think it's a tactile attraction. I like the feel of it, the acoustics, and look of it.

As I spend hour after hour pulling wallpaper tacks out of the Devil Queen's walls, I wonder why wood? Why wallpaper? Why not plaster? Would that be easier? I started a post several months ago trying to answer this question. I did a fair bit of research, but the truth is I still didn't know. Frustrated, I filed it away in the back of my mind and moved on to other things.

Today, it all came together. I'm always intrigued when several seemingly random threads of information weave themselves into a coherent whole. The answer to my question can be summed up in three words: convenience, economy, and availability.

Unless they have money to burn, most people build homes with what is locally available. The Queen was originally made with locally milled pine and locally manufactured clay bricks. Moreover, Van Boswell, the builder of the Queen, was a carpenter and a contractor. As a carpenter, what material do you suppose he felt most comfortable working with? I don't know about you, but I'm guessing wood.

In local terms, the Devil Queen was a very nice, well-to-do middle class home when she was built. However, Russellville, Arkansas, was and is a provincial backwater of the greater United States. What passes as a "fortune" in Russellville isn't enough to buy a hole to shit in, in New York City.

From the homes I've seen in Savannah, Georgia, on Houseblogs, and other places, I've drawn the conclusion that only relatively wealthy people could afford plaster. It takes a highly skilled craftsman to do good plaster work. Yes, I know that it takes a lot of skill to master carpentry, plumbing, et cetera, but I still believe plaster is exceptionally difficult. According to an article in this months This Old House Magazine (December 2005, No. 94):

"Every bit of the work, from making the molds to mixing the plaster, is done entirely by hand in a process that has hardly changed since the days of the Pyramids. Mastering it requires a 6,000 hour apprenticeship - that's 20 times as long as it takes to get a commercial pilot's license."

They don’t list any prices in the article, but I bet they charge a pretty penny for their work. I would if I'd spent that long mastering my trade. No disrespect to the late Van Boswell, but I don't think he had enough money to hire a plasterer to come out to BFE to work on the Queen even if he wanted to.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I still think the Devil Queen is a magnificent house. I've never found a house quite like her anywhere else. Sure she isn't anywhere as fancy as the house below (If you want to see this baby in person, go to Savannah, Georgia), but that is fine with me.

Besides, from what I've seen, installing/repairing/disposing of plaster and lathe walls looks worse than peeling wallpaper and patching & painting drywall. Sure, pulling wallpaper tacks sucks, but it could always be worse.


Blogger derek said...

Our house had wood in one room upstairs. The plaster work is a little shoddy I think too, it's so thin in some places. I think there was a lot of dependence on people from the old country for trades like plaster, tile and concrete. I guess there weren't too many Italian or Portuguese immigrants in Arkansas.

5:02 PM  
Blogger John said...

Derek, you're correct.

Northwest Arkansas is mainly populated by folks of Scotish-Irish-Cherokee descent. There are some Germans too. The Italians didn't come until the early 20th century (mostly they stayed in the south-central part of the state though), and I've never met anyone of Portuguese descent in Arkansas.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Tony Maro said...

We built an office with the help of a plasterer last January.

Not quite the SAME mind you, because they use a blueboard backing instead of lathe and 3+ layers of plaster.

It's still a sight to see though, a craftsman doing plaster. We have a seashell shaped texture across all the walls and ceiling that is just amazing.


10:22 AM  

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