Recently I saw some neat pictures of the Old Brick House (built c.1850) in Biloxi. That gave me the idea for this week’s MissPres Architectural Word of the Week: Penciled. The Old Brick House sits facing Biloxi’s Back Bay, so folks maybe more acquainted with the street side rear of the structure than what was built as the front.
This week’s word as defined in Cyril M. Harris’s Dictionary of Architecture and Construction (4th Ed.)
Penciled: (\ˈpen(t)-səld\) Descriptive of a mortar joint in a brick wall used in the early 19th century when extremely thin mortar joints were fashionable. They were prepared as follows: First the wall, with mortar joints flush with the brick surface, was painted the color of the brick; then a narrow white line painted along the center of the mortar joints.
Where protected from the elements by the porches you can see trace evidence from when the entire house was painted red and penciled. In these shots you can see remaining the vertical joints that were painted in white. In another shot you can see some of the red paint still remaining. In the last image, the penciling is very obvious once you see a portion of the restored work next to the original.
Why might people do this, paint their house instead of using the fine brick? I don’t know the answer. Having a skilled painter paint brick over top what you have already paid a mason to build would not have been much cheaper than having a skilled mason lay thin mortar joints in the first place. Perhaps the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of high-quality pressed brick that would give a smooth complementary appearance to the thin mortar joints. Two examples below show the look that penciled brick structures were attempting to achieve. Both of these examples are in Natchez.
At Melrose (built 1847-1848), to make up for the lack of high-quality pressed brick, the masons employed a common technique of rubbing the face of the brick and the mortar joints smooth after the wall is laid up. The other example, the Old Adams County Jail (built 1891), was built at a time when high-quality pressed brick was available in Natchez.
I just recently came across the new-to-me The Painters Encyclopædia published in 1887. In this nifty book the author defines “Penciling Brick” as follows;
Penciling Brick. — The lines in imitation of mortar are drawn with a brush, called by some a “brick header” (q.v.), along with a straight-edge. The paint should be mixed with turpentine, and be used thick enough not to run.
The only other example of penciling that springs to mind is Monmouth (built 1818, remodeled c.1853) in Natchez. I believe Monmouth still has some original penciling remaining on a back wall that is protected by an addition. Below is the only photograph I could locate of that penciling.
Since I would notion that there are plenty of examples of buildings with thin mortar joints being built late into the 19th and even into the early 20th century, and our examples of penciled brick hail from the mid-19th century, I think Mr. Harris’ definition slightly limiting. Do you have a Mississippi example of a building that is or was at one time painted and penciled? If so please share! With all this nice weather we are being blessed with, get outside, scope out this and all the previous MissPres Architectural Word of the Week. You just never know where they will pop up next!