Cream City Brick

Milwaukee, Cream City. No, it's not from dairy and it's not from brewing. Milwaukee is called Cream City from the colour of bricks, used everywhere and made from local clay. We have cathedrals made of cream. And why not? It's a beautiful material.

I've been spending my lunch breaks with my new Fujifilm X-T2 skulking around the alleyways of the Third Ward, an old industrial sector now mostly polished into a commerce-and-condo district, taking pictures of Cream City brick. The patterns of wear and weather, the patch-jobs and neglect, make for striking images.

So allow me to introduce you to this delightful material.

Cream City Brick © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Oh, the cream you meet as you walk down the street.

Cream Corner © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

It has a character all its own.

Bottleglass Window © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

So much cream!

Private © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Cream City brick comes in many flavours. Your standard Cream City brick wall contains many shades and seems to be crumbling as you look at it.

Basic Cream © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

It may be the standard, but it takes years to get to this point. This is brick that's been around the block.

What does Cream City brick look like when it's still a rookie? Squared off and clean shaven, all the same colour, that's what. A tad boring, but growing into its friability.

Fresh Cream © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

By the time it's fully mature, Cream City brick will have sucked up more air pollution than a HEPA filter, which turns it black. That's right, a lot of cream here in Milwaukee is black.

There's also frequently a good amount of red, which I'm not sure why that is. The clay that Cream City brick is made out of is red, and only turns cream in the firing. Maybe that's why? Don't know, but old cream is a beautiful sight, full of strange shapes and dramatic contrasts.

Old Cream © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

So important is Cream City brick to Milwaukee that buildings that lack the cream colour are looked down upon. People avoid walking into such buildings if at all possible. It's not unusual to spot groups of Milwaukeeans wandering around such buildings, searching for a cream façade with a door in it.

The undeniable factuality of this behaviour has led numerous building owners to paint their properties cream in a desperate attempt to fit in.

Non-Dairy Creamer © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Fooled me!

Some heterodox people take Cream City brick for granted, even to the point of hiding it under false colours, like this building near the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, where they teach students: when in doubt, paint it all grey.

Art Student Grey © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

The majority of Milwaukeeans, however, value Cream City brick, and take years and years to restore buildings as carefully possible when necessary.

Patch-It Rectangle © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Nailed it! You can just picture the mason's pride in a job well done.

These expert patch-jobs lead to all sorts of delightful colour combinations and patterns.

Brick Cream Dirt © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

I can't tell where one type of brick ends and the next begins! Can you?

Sometimes you wonder if the builders and repairers were just trying to use as many materials as possible.

Four Materials © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Sometimes an aficionado of brick like yours truly can spot a bit of a "make-do" attitude on the part of the builders.

Alleyway Triptych © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Where do arsonists go to meet people?

Gypsum Meets Cream © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

There is something about witnessing the effects of the passage of time, isn't there? Not too get too heavy, or anything, but in this next picture you really feel the weight of the brick. Or maybe the mason was just overzealous in applying grout that day.

Ladder of Grout © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

Sometimes you find old bits and bobs stuck into walls and realize that these cream walls have been a part of lives that are now gone. 

Label, Bolts & Chain © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

And sometimes you realize that there are whole sections of buildings that are now gone.

Ladder of Doors © 2017 Jonathan Abresch

And sometimes you realize that the entire building is now gone.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi © 2017 Jonathan Abresch