When most people hear the words ‘chalkware‘ or ‘plaster’, they think of those funny animal pieces and rip-offs of comic characters — the cheap prizes hawked by carnival barkers. Or maybe you think of those more modern retro kitschy pieces by Miller Studios, like white poodle head plaques or kitty string holders, but that’s not all there is to collect in vintage plaster pieces.
Even at the circus and those old country fairs there were more delicate home decor pieces to be found. Some, like my harlequin Great Dane dog statue, are really lovely. But there’s more than statues in the world of plaster and chalkware.
While many collectors seem to compete for the known names, the really old statue pieces or rare lamps, I find myself adopting lots of plaster for my walls. (You can literally plaster the walls!)
For some reason, floral pattern wall plaques are not in vogue. I’m often surprised at the number of these beauties I find; often nice quality pieces with wire hangers, not staples, on their backs. So, home with me they go. They are inexpensive and what else would be better for my garden-themed kitchen wall?
Well, if you prefer roosters or anthropomorphic veggies and fruits, you can find those too.
For the bathroom, you’ll find plenty of fish and mermaids; even new pieces in retro styles. As most bathrooms are small, you can decorate an entire room with very few trips to look for them.
Again, Miller Studios is one name to search for, but you’ll find many of these in thrift shops, flea markets and neighborhood sales.
Little shelves are very common, and I put them to use in nearly every room. Where else can you put the million and one small candle holders and vases one acquires?
Currently, I am working on a display of small white and off-white plaster shelves which, when grouped together, will hold a multitude of not-too-shabby and very chic tea cups, strands of glass beads, and little glass jars of buttons and marbles. Right now, all I am missing is the wall space (it’s always at a premium here) and when it’s done I’ll show it to you.
One of my favorite pieces — so loved for its uniqueness — is this 15 inch tall plaster piece with metal mesh background. The motif is romantic, with lady and gent in their powdered wigs. The frame has very French looking golden scrolls and flourishes, but the metal mesh marks this piece as all 70s, baby. I’m on the lookout for it’s mate — I just know there’s at least one more like this!
Since chalkware and Plaster of Paris items are fragile, no matter what their age, many pieces were damaged and thrown away. Surviving items may have chips and/or paint problems. Some collectors will make repairs, especially quick touch ups with paint, but I prefer the charm of a ‘flawed’ piece.
The two vintage lady wall plaques (shown in the grouping above) have lost much of their original paint. It’s just peeled right off, exposing the white plaster beneath. But I love them as they are. And this German Shepherd dog statue (a whopping 15+ inches tall) was given to us by a dealer who knows what a soft touch I am for old plaster collectibles. Sans his ears, she thought we might fix him up, but neither hubby or I have found the heart yet — nor the time.
Perhaps one day soon, when we stop scrounging for more plaster items to bring home, we’ll find the time to give him new ears. I think the odds are more likely we’ll find him a nice hat to wear.