CHICAGO — Cynthia Albritton, aka Cynthia Plaster Caster, created a one-of-a-kind career and earned herself national fame by making plaster molds of rock stars’ private parts.
The Chicago-born artist died Thursday at 74. Albritton achieved celebrity status for her work: She created molds of some of the world’s biggest stars, including Jimi Hendrix, Jon Langford of the Mekons, Eric Burdon of the Animals, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks and Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra.
Albritton’s friends said they’re remembering her for her charming personality and for fostering Chicago’s art and party scene.
Albritton turned groupie culture into a public persona, said her friend, Michael Workman. For artists, it was “an honor” when she would ask to make a mold of your private parts, he said.
“If she was interested in you as a caster, it meant you had rock star potential. She had that power,” Workman said. “She was a constant figure, always at The Hideout looking for her next victims.”
Albritton, who was born in Chicago and graduated from South Shore High School, started her work when she was given an art assignment in college to make a cast of something, according to Pitchfork. She got her big break when Hendrix became the first celebrity to agree to let Albritton make a cast of his penis; from there, she connected with more musicians, living in Los Angeles for a time and getting support from musician Frank Zappa.
Workman said the Hendrix art piece made Albritton a Chicago cult icon known as “the chick who casted Jimi Hendrix’s d—.”
But Albritton’s work wasn’t about shock value — it was about her love of music.
“There was a deep love of music encoded in her art, the sexual revolution that was part of rock ‘n’ roll,” Workman said. “And her art was her practice, the way she lived her life going to shows. It was deeply authentic. There’s a richer background than, ‘She liked rock star d—s.'”
Langford said Albritton asked to cast his penis just a couple days after she met him. It took him “a good three or four years to process the offer,” Langford said.
Albritton was “unassuming and took it seriously,” Langford said
Eventually, the musician found himself in a room with Albritton and a mountain of dental mold.
“It wasn’t what you would call an erotic experience in any way,” Langford said. “It was a bit of a laugh, just kind of seeing if it would work.”
The two forged a friendship that lasted 37 years. On Wednesday, Langford went over to Albritton’s home to play her favorite songs.
“She made it clear her work was really about the music she loved and respected,” Langford said. “First and foremost, she was a music fan, and her fandom created this brilliant experimental art project.”
Albritton’s art put her in the spotlight, and even though members of KISS wouldn’t take part in her art, they did pay tribute to her with 1977’s “Plaster Caster.”
Albritton continued her work for decades, her molds shown in traveling exhibitions, despite battles in the ’80s and ’90s over who should control her collection.
The longtime Lincoln Park resident was the “community caretaker of Chicago’s arts and party scene,” Workman said.
Tall tales about Albritton abound: from her roller-skating around her apartment with Zappa to “the d— jokes she always had at the ready,” Workman said. She was an underground figure, but also a constant presence to those in Chicago who frequented concerts and art galleries, Workman said.
In 2000, Albritton also began making molds of women. She’d made a mold of Chicago performer Jan Terri’s breasts — the last cast Albritton took before her death, the musician wrote on Facebook.
While Albritton’s sense of fun and humor always shined through, Langford said he hopes people remember her for more than her erotic art.
“She invented something. It was so heroic, yet so disastrous, as well,” Langford said. “She was baffling and shocking, funny, witty gentle person. She was a completely unique supporter of musicians.”
Albritton was also a Chicagoan through and through, lecturing at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997 and running for mayor under The Hard Party in 2010, according to the Tribune.
“Chicago is her baby. This place and the people here are what sustained her,” Workman said. “She was always poor, but you can be poor in Chicago with style.”
Workman said Albritton won rock stars over by being “kooky in a great way” and always being unapologetically herself.
“There was a sense that as an artist, getting to know Cynthia, she made you feel like you could make it, too. She was an ambassador of, ‘You can make it too,'” Workman said. “And that’s the story of Chicago, that it can take you to anywhere in the world.”
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