With the aid of a cane, Jeff Poree walks spritely to the entrance of his Mid-City workshop. He ruefully admits his 69-year old body is full of aches and pains and that his work as master plasterer has certainly taken its toll on his bones and joints. But he wouldn’t change his chosen vocation for anything and he shows no signs of slowing down.
“I just don’t see retirement in my sights,” he says. “We’re working on 10 jobs right now. Maybe when I do quit I’ll write a book. I’ll call it,‘My Life in Plaster’.”
Poree is a fifth-generation plasterer and the owner of Jeff Poree Plastering. He’s the plasterer of record for many of the region’s most important restorations of historic sites such as the Peristyle in City Park. He also maintains the plaster at such places as The Cabildo, The Lower Pontalba and Gallier Hall.
According to Jonn Ethan Hankins, founding director of the New Orleans Master Crafts Guild, the Poree family is legendary for their exceptional skills in ornamental exterior and interior plaster, artistic molds and specialty finishes, including old world Venetian and exotic finishes.
Jeff Poree Plastering is a big operation, with a 15,000-square-foot casting shop that employs 32 people, who range from apprentices learning to create smooth walls to gifted artisans working on detailed ceiling roses, lions and gargoyles. His full-time art department can restore almost anything working from fragments, photographs or drawings.
“We are so fortunate to get the opportunity to restore historic works to their original grandeur,” says Christopher Caravella Jones, who’s worked for Poree for almost two decades.
Throughout the years, Robert Cangelosi, Jr., architect and president of Koch and Wilson has collaborated with Poree’s company on many projects such as the Napoleon House and numerous historic private homes in the Garden District and French Quarter.
“His company has the experience and expertise to do the most complex historic plastering and stucco restoration work preserving our heritage for future generations,” Cangelosi says.
This will also be the seventh year Poree will present at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Louisiana Folklife Village. He’s also training the craft of plastering to apprentice plasterers. He’ll soon finish his sixth apprenticeship class, the process takes three years.
“Jeff trained under the best generation of master plasterers New Orleans has ever produced,” says Hankins, “Now he is the standard bearer, he’s at the top. Now it’s up to Jeff to make sure that the centuries-old, ‘secret’ skills of the trade get passed along to the best in the next generation. That’s a lot on his shoulders.”
Poree a humble and soft-spoken man simply says, “I’ve been honored to work with older craftsmen and now I’m honored to be able to be passing on the knowledge.”