Tech Tip of the Month, June 2020: Stucco analysis for a Prairie-period house

By John Waters, Preservation Programs Manager

The Conservancy offers a wealth of technical information and support to Wright building stewards. Each month, we will highlight a Tech Tip of the Month featuring useful information for those who own or care for Wright’s buildings.

Recently we received a question from a preservation specialist working on a Prairie-period Wright-designed building near Chicago. Specifically, he was interested to know if the Conservancy had any stucco specifications from the Prairie period that he might reference in his analysis of the stucco on which he was working. We were able to provide the specialist with information from a complete set of specifications for Wright’s 1905 Sutton House in McCook, Nebraska.

The specifications on the Sutton House includes a section on exterior plaster, also known as stucco. The specification gives direction on the installation of wood and metal lath, and the mixing of both lime and cement plaster. It also calls out the type of fiber reinforcement to be used in the plaster: either goat or long cattle hair, or “Manilla” fiber, a natural fiber that is the basis of Manilla paper.

The Sutton House specifications are now a part of the John Thorpe Archive held by the Art Institute of Chicago. The Thorpe Archive holds the work of the late preservation architect John Thorpe. John was one of the leading restoration architects working on Prairie period building in the Midwest and a long-time, key supporter of the Conservancy. The Thorpe Archive contains drawings and back-up documentation for buildings on which John worked, including 33 Wright-designed buildings, and several other historic buildings. John’s family and his former colleagues put the archive together. They not only organized the material in the archive, but also digitally scanned each item. These scans are now available for use by the Conservancy for inquiries just like the one described here.

Access to the Thorpe Archive is just one example of the network of connections that the Conservancy is able to take advantage of when inquiries are received. If you are a Wright building steward, we encourage you to take advantage of that network by contacting us when you have questions regarding best practices for preserving and restoring your building.

If you have a technical question about your Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, please contact us at the contact information on the screen.

John Waters, Preservation Programs Manager

You can also visit our website at to access case study material of various building renovations.

Posted on June 3, 2020

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