Michigan Heritage Awards
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2006 awardee, Lansing (Ingham County), Ornamental
In 1949 during the postwar building boom, Ernie Hawks was busy working as
an apprentice plasterer on Michigan State University campus buildings. During
his four-year apprenticeship he volunteered his services whenever cornice
or ornamental work was needed and developed a reputation for his expertise
in running cornices and making molds of ornamental plaster. After a long
and successful career of beautifying buildings with ornamental plaster,
Ernie was coaxed from his Florida retirement home in the late 1980s to head
up the plaster restoration on the Michigan State Capitol Restoration Project.
This project was the granddaddy of ornamental plaster projects. The 1879
building, designed by Elijah Myers, had been adorned from top to bottom
with elaborate Victorian-era ornamental plaster and decorative paint, but
over the years, much of the building's original beauty had been obscured
by suspended ceilings and coats of white paint.
Over the course of the restoration project Ernie and his crew made thousands
of feet of replacement plaster cornice, some of which was 24" wide.
They replaced thousands of square feet of plaster walls, using one-inch-thick,
super-strength plaster. Making rubber molds from the few remaining original
plaster cartouches left behind after earlier renovations, Ernie and his
crew also made hundreds of replacement cartouches for use above the doors
Ernie worked five years restoring plaster at the Capitol, overseeing a crew
of 12 men that included his nephew Gerald Vergeson of Lyons, who learned
the ornamental plaster trade from his uncle.
Ernie’s craftsmanship can also be seen in Michigan at the Michigan
Theater in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Theater in Lansing, the Fairchild Theater
on the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing , the Hannah Community
Center in East Lansing, and the courthouse in Flint to name a few.
Ernie Hawks is recognized with a 2006 Michigan Heritage Award for his mastery
and transmission of the art of ornamental architectural plaster.
--Lynne Swanson, fieldworker
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