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The Black Plaster Story

 

I should like to tell a story of Mr. Ishiguro an eighty-year-old master plaster who was known as one of the last great plasterers of Japan. The art of making shikkui, a lime plaster mixed with organic gum and polished to a fine finish with a series of blades of greater and greater suppleness, is one of the great old arts of Japan.

Once, he and his son made a rough framework, and on it, the elder Mr. Ishiguro plastered an area of about one square meter in black plaster. His son, sixty years old, and the head of their two man company made a similar area of light green plaster.

His son finished first. The light green plaster was very nice by any ordinary standards. But the elder Mr. Ishiguro worked at his black plaster for a long, long time, lovingly stroking the small square of plaster, for hours it seemed, with his softest trowel, so gently. He went on with it. And he went on with it. His plaster, the black panel, shone in an almost unbelievable way. It had a surface of satin gloss and sheen, yet so deep as if the world itself were in the plaster.

Whatever quality it was, it did not exist in the green plaster his son had made. 

Mr. Ishiguro was asked, what it was, and what the difference was. He said, quite openly, that his son, though he had been plastering for forty years, had never understood this "something". He is interested in the business, he takes care of the money, he is a good plasterer. But I was never able to teach him this. And he shook his head. 

 

That was a whisper of the "something", a direct relatedness between person and matter, which has escaped our modern consciousness. 

 

 

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