Plaster Medallions.

It’s brilliant the amount of random peripheral knowledge I’m acquiring while creating this Robert Smalls graphic novel! In this case, it was about plaster medallions of all things!

A Plaster Medallion or Rosette.

For example, I’m sure you’ve all see old houses with light fixtures descending from plaster medallions like the one above? Do you know why? Kudos if you did – I certainly didn’t! I thought they were purely decorative.

While drawing the interior of Beaufort Baptist Church, I found some images of its modern-day interior. These images include its current electrical light fixtures which would not have existed there in the 1840s; Edison’s lightbulb didn’t come about until the 1870s.

While doing some preliminary research on the church though, I had already found out that the plaster medallions some of the current lights are hanging from certainly did exist in the 19th century with great pains being taken to preserve and restore them in 1953. With this in mind, I had a quick look into what sort of lighting it may have had back then so I could draw it.

Candles were popular in the earlier 19th century with whale oil being a more upmarket alternative. Gas lighting was introduced in the early 19th century and although it didn’t become popular in homes until the 1880s it seems reasonable that a church may have been using it before homes. Kerosene became popular after the Civil War in the 1860s.

It seems likely that the church would have had gas lighting then, likely coming from an ornate gasolier hanging from the ceiling.

A Gasolier hanging from a Plaster Medallion
A Gasolier Hanging from a Plaster Medallion.

Elements such as glass globes around each gas flame may have been in place to protect the flame from gusts of wind, but these would have been open at the top to allow the smoke and fumes to escape. The smoke would have risen to the ceiling, gradually blackening the ceiling with soot over time. The plaster medallion would have helped to disguise this blackening, giving it both an aesthetic and practical purpose.

Don’t say I never teach you anything! 


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