Since the age of 12, Jean-François Furieri has worked with plaster, an ancient medium made from a mixture of lime, fine sand, and gypsum with water. His father was a master plasterer, and so was his grandfather, and it was in Cannes, that Jean-François would acquire, first, a solid foundation, and then, over the next four decades, a wealth of knowledge in an ancient craft. It is a priceless legacy he is passing on to the fourth generation of Fury.
At 65, a minor lameness—a chronic judo injury—gives the torch to daughter, Magali, a chance to see where her third act will take her; Most likely he will fall back on his second love, Sculpture. “My first love was judo,” said Jean-François. “When I was younger, it was a way for me to escape the plaster shop, and I really threw myself into it. I was a top competitor, I was on my way to the Olympics. Now, I became a grandfather. And all my old judo injuries have taken hold of me, so this is the perfect time to get back into sculpture.”
His full and influential title is Architectural Master Craftsman and Heritage Plaster Consultant, and he founded Iconoplast, a Toronto-based company, in 1986. Being one of only a handful of artisans with his credentials, his work has taken him to respected old theatres. Broadway and King Street; For old hospitals and banks, museums, hotels and the Prime Minister’s Office; For contemporary projects such as elaborate ceilings, arches, moldings and capitals of One King West; throughout Europe and throughout North America.
This is a legacy Magali is learning to live up to.
At 29, and the youngest of her four daughters, Magali was always creative. She studied arts, humanities, and film at the University of Toronto, but it wasn’t until a short stint at Willowbanks, a school of heritage conservation in Niagara, Ontario, that she tried stone carving and was then able to call it that.
“Willowbanks was great,” Magali recalls. “But after being on site with my dad, my hands got dirty, after learning so much, I couldn’t go back to a desk.”
She knew she wanted to work in a creative field, leaning toward film editing, until her first summer with her father at the McDonnell-Williamson House, circa 1817, in Pointe-Fortune, Ontario. Didn’t want to do internship. Slated for demolition until it was purchased by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, Iconoplast was called upon to restore the details to its former glory.
“After working at McDonnell House,” recalled Magali. “I was like, ‘That’s it!
“The house had been lying vacant for so long,” said Magali. “Squatters were there, and vandals. Walls were kicked, crumpled all over the place; we saw one of the chimneys hanging over the door of someone’s garage down the street.”
Magali had to work over 200 painstaking hours of paint removal, revealing true lines created by some of Ontario’s oldest plasterwork.
“It was such a slow process,” Magali said. “We used dental instruments to carefully remove layers and layers of paint to hide detail.”
It’s slow and hard, “it’s very rewarding,” Magali said. “I have such a passion for work and it grows the more I learn. It has brought me and my father closer as well.”
“All my girls spend their time in the studio,” said Jean-François. “They helped out, got coffee, etcetera, but Muggle was always the most creative, very talented, and decided she really liked it. I never forced her; if I had, she’d be a baker now !”
The company’s focus was originally on production work, making plaster pieces from scratch, which meant that Magali saw both sides of the business. “I can run a mold and make new, custom pieces,” Magali said, “but restoration is our place, and it’s a dying business, especially in North America.”
But if working to restore historic plaster is a dying craft, how does Magali feel about its future? “I believe I will have the job, because there is a small group of us doing it and I hope the next generation will appreciate the fine plaster work.”
Cities and towns in North America and Europe are still widely inhabited by turn-of-the-century houses, churches, and 19th-century public buildings, and inside, the intricate plasterwork is being damaged by vibrations from water, wind, and vehicular traffic. . With any luck, some of it will be repaired and restored rather than discarded.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction,” said Magali. “When someone comes up to us and asks, ‘Can you save this?’ And we can tell them yes!”
“In Ontario,” said Magali. “There are other companies that can do good plaster work, but we are the only ones that specialize in historic restoration. Most people today do not know the traditional method we use to restore and preserve historic plaster work. We do.”
“Being a player in a micromarket,” says Jean-François. “You have to be a true expert. We have a lot of fake competitors.”
“We do a lot of work in churches in and around Toronto,” Magali said, “but one of my favorite jobs was rejuvenating an abandoned ballroom in King Eddy.” The grand room was gutted from the 1960s, and Magali and his team brought the old and broken room back to its former gold hue.
“I really have a passion for it and over the years it has only gotten stronger,” Magali said. “It’s not something I want to do. I’m blessed. I love what I’m doing. You know, once someone came over where I was working, and they said, ‘It’s 50 feet up No one is going to see it!’ But I am doing it very carefully and doing it for myself as much as I can.”
Jean-François made Magly a full partner in the business in 2018 and shortly thereafter, he took over as project manager on one of the company’s most public commissions to date – the four-year run of Toronto’s iconic venue Massey Hall. restoration.
It’s tough enough to take over from a master tradesman as respected as Jean-François, but for a young woman in a male-dominated industry, it can be a real challenge.
“In the beginning, when I was on the site with my father for the first time,” Magali recalls. “Businesses and customers would treat me like a ‘boss’ daughter.’ Some were clearly misogynistic and dismissive if they didn’t like something I was asking them to do. They’d say, ‘Just ask her dad. .’ But instead of trying to boss them out to respect me, I had a mantra that I kept telling myself over and over again – ‘Kill them with kindness.’”
“So yeah, it’s been a little difficult for me,” Magali admits. “Still, over the years, I’d like to think that I’ve learned how to approach these situations if I find myself in them again, which, to be honest, I most likely would. I treat everyone the same way, no matter what level of authority. I’ve learned the hard way that people can mistake my kindness for weakness, especially because I’m a woman. When I’m on a job site I definitely see traders and they see my white hard hat (white is worn only by managers) and listen to my position of authority. But looking at my past experiences, as I work And they see the quality of my work, the environment can change and I feel like I’ve gained their respect because they’re afraid of my work. And, I must say, the people and trades I’ve worked with at Macy’s Hall. Worked together, they came to respect me as I was managing three projects at once.
But just because the iconoplast is steeped in tradition, it doesn’t mean that the Furies are Luddites. New technologies and materials interest them.
“We are both interested in 3-D printing,” said Jean-François. “But it’s not really fast enough right now. And even computer-aided design and printing will always require a human hand and the creativity of artists. People working on software don’t have the touch of artists, So the craftsman always has the last word in his hand.”
As far as Magali is concerned, she is thinking of a time when she can get even more creative. “I want to play with resin and other mediums. There’s a personal project I wanted to start – a line of original art works in clay to put in plaster. I need to create my own personal creative outlet, that’s important “
It is also important to Jean-François. He is looking forward to collaborating with some of his favorite artists. “I am not as much an artist as I am a technician,” said Jean-François. “That’s why I like to work with actors on projects just for fun.” With Magali confidently handling the family business, he will have time.
“I think my dad feels like too much weight has been taken off his shoulders,” Magali said. “Because I can take care of the business side of things and now I’m managing all the work on site as well. He’d like to travel back home to Cannes, and Nice, where he and my mother met, and do something.” Huh.
“And when I get old,” said Magali. “I’d prefer to pass this business on to someone in the family, but I’ll do what my dad did for me. He called me in; he didn’t impose on me what his father did.”