Earl Barthé2006 Askins Achievement Award Recipient
"He is not only a master preservation plasterer of extraordinary skill and artistry, he is a craftsman who has great love for his traditional trade, takes great pride in high standards of excellence in craftsmanship, and has worked tirelessly to teach, preserve, and pass on his traditional skills to future generations of tradesmen."
It is my great pleasure to nominate Earl Barthé for the Askins Achievement Award. Mr. Barthé is immensely deserving of this award. He is not only a master preservation plasterer of extraordinary skill and artistry, he is a craftsman who has great love for his traditional trade, takes great pride in high standards of excellence in craftsmanship, and has worked tirelessly to teach, preserve, and pass on his traditional skills to future generations of tradesmen. Earl Barthe’s roots in the plastering tradition run deep. He is a 5th generation plasterer whose great-great-grandfather, a master plasterer from Nice, France, settled in New Orleans in the mid-1800s and established a family business that is still in operation today. “Ninety-nine percent of my male family are plasterers,” says Mr. Barthé. His 150-year-old family company specializes in preserving old plaster walls, ornamental cornices, and other decorative details for historic buildings. “I look at these old buildings, and I know one of my ancestors was involved in building it. Now we’re working on restoring it, and it gives me such a strong feeling for how things continue,” he once commented. Earl Barthé takes enormous pride in the lasting mark his family has left on the city of New Orleans. “I take my grandchildren riding, and I say, ‘See that building? We did that.’ We’ve had a hand in a lot of places.” When I first met Mr. Barthé while conducting research for the Masters of the Building Arts program for the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I was immediately struck not only by his artistic excellence, but by his passion for his craft and his pride in his traditional skills. “When I was a boy, my dream was to be like my father. I couldn’t wait to get a job with plaster,” he said. “You cannot do this work if you don’t appreciate it. It’s some precious work. It’s like a diamond, like a jewel, and it’s for you to preserve it.” Mr. Barthe’s teachers demanded high quality work. “They didn’t just want a plasterer, they wanted a master craftsman. And New Orleans, we produce some of the best.” Mr. Barthé has followed in his teachers’ footsteps - he holds the bar high and demands excellence from the apprentices he teaches and the journeymen who work with him. Mr. Barthé has a strong desire to preserve and pass on his traditional knowledge and skills -- striving to keep his craft alive. He has passed down his trade to countless members of his family, including his son Hurchail Barthe, his daughters Terry and Trudy Barthé, and many of his grandchildren, as well as to numerous young people in New Orleans. He is a highly respected member of his trade union, a past member of the state’s Apprentice Program, and has continued to work hard to try to revive the plasterer union’s apprenticeship program. When Mr. Barthé participated in the Masters of the Building Arts program at the 2001 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, his willingness to share his traditional knowledge with the public served to educate and inspire thousands of visitors to the Festival. I know that he has taken part in many similar presentations in New Orleans. Mr. Barthé has always worked tirelessly to seek ways to bring young people into the trade, instill pride in the craft, and encourage high standards of workmanship. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects on New Orleans, Mr. Barthe’s resolve to teach and preserve his craft has increased ten-fold and his involvement in efforts to help restore New Orleans’ historic buildings and rich material legacy is truly inspirational. Mr. Barthé has received many honors for his high quality craftsmanship and his passionate dedication to preserving his trade. He was featured in the recent New Orleans Museum of Art exhibition titled “Raised to the Trade: Creole Building Arts in New Orleans” and in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s “Masters of the Building Arts” program in 2001. In 2003, he was inducted into the Louisiana AFL-CIO Labor Hall of Fame, and in 2005 Mr. Barthé received the nation’s highest honor in the traditional arts – the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship. Earl Barthé stands as a beacon - inspiring and teaching others through his artistic mastery, his dedication to his craft, and his unwavering commitment to excellence. It is with the highest possible regard that I nominate Earl Barthé for the Askins Achievement Award.
Mr. Barthé passed away on January 11, 2010.
Nomination Statement by Marjorie A. Hunt, Ph.D. Curator/Folklorist Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage