Reconstructing the Portico Columns

Research & Collections

Because the original bases for the portico columns had been sculpted down to the ground in circa 1855, the first step in their restoration, after the removal of the stucco, was to reconstruct the Madison-era bases. Next, the bricks were repaired and then a new two-coat system of lime stucco (or render) was applied to the columns. The two-coat system (consisting of a scratch coat and a finish coat) is similar to interior plasters and is done to ensure an even, smooth covering with fewer cracks.

Images of the Reconstructed Portico

The first step in restoring the portico columns was to remove the existing stucco. These columns, which date to ca. 1797, originally sat on high, square bases, but were sculpted down to the ground in ca. 1855.

A replacement brick is being sculpted for the base of a column. Where the original bricks were missing or significantly damaged, new bricks were shaped by hand to reproduce the original design.

The masons apply the first of two coats of a lime-based covering, or render, to the columns.

A mason applies the final coat of render to the top of the column. Here a “horse,” or wooden board with the molding profile cut into it, is used to ensure that the molding elements are exactly right and perfectly smooth.


What is a Portico?

The Art & Architecture Thesaurus defines a portico as a roofed porch-like space, open along at least one side and usually associated with an entrance, supported by columns and often surmounted by a pediment. Porticoes may project from the main building mass or be recessed in it.