• HOME


    Richard Hutman - IN THE TIME OF PENCILS


    By Ed F. S. Rex and Richard Hutman

    Early sightings

    Until today, what little we knew of the Lost City came from a single primary source - a reclusive surveyor by the name of Sargent or Surgent. A 19th century prospector from Paducah, KY, he had roamed the western US in search of fortune, which had always eluded him. In his later years, he claimed to have stumbled upon the ruins of a Lost City at some unspecified location, perhaps the southwestern US, in the Time of Pencils. His copious hand written notes described the gigantic walls of the city. They appeared to have been fashioned from stacks of enormous building blocks - with 8 (?!) vertical faces. The blocks he said were covered with hand-made and quite large drawings - often drawings of faces. A few drawings were in black ink or blue; some were painted in still-bright colors; but a substantial majority was done in graphite - pencil. The preponderance of pencil works support the conclusion that, if the City existed at all, its decorations dated from the Time of Pencils.

    Years of wandering alone in the deserts and mountains, inclement weather, and his distrust of strangers had enfeebled his reason and dimmed the prospector's recollection. At the end he kept to himself and was a bit eccentric. When he spoke at all, it might be to mumble a string of numbers like 72727. His housekeeper swore he was no stranger than most and harmless. Even so, he was hardly a reliable and credible source of information.

    After his death, additional sources and sightings of the Lost City began to emerge - up to 30, on five continents. From India, Patagonia, Africa, and the Pyrenees, came vaguely similar stories. For example, there were photographs that a schoolgirl in Iowa had come across in a scrapbook passed down to her by her grandmother. The faded and barely legible photographs seem to be of a large structure of unknown origin - possibly in North Africa. They seemed to fit the description by the prospector. On the back of the photos were cryptic notes with several unanswered questions - as if trying to make sense of it all:
    • Where? Why there?
    • Where was the quarry, the source? How did they move the stones?
    • Where have they gone? (Who? The occupants, the artists, or the subjects?)
    • Why Pencil?

    A brief, but necessary, digression

    For those of us too young to remember, I have a description and an actual picture of a Pencil, from my primary source, Wikipedia, 2010.

    A pencil is (was) a writing implement or art medium usually constructed of a narrow, solid pigment core inside a protective casing. The case prevents the core from breaking or staining the user's hand. Pencils create marks via physical abrasion, leaving behind a trail of solid core material that adheres to a sheet of paper or other surface. They are noticeably distinct from pens, which dispense liquid or gel ink that stain the light color of the paper. Most pencil cores are made of graphite mixed with a clay binder, leaving grey or black marks that can be easily erased. Graphite pencils are used for both writing and drawing, and the result is durable: although writing can usually be removed with an eraser, it is resistant to moisture, most chemicals, ultraviolet radiation and natural ageing.

    1. Time - Wikipedia goes on to tell us that the pencil as we know it today (knew it then) may have originated in northwestern Cumbria in the Lake Country of England about 500 years ago - the generally accepted start date for the Time of Pencils - fixing the assumed dates for decoration of the walls between 1500-2000AD, under the old calendar. Clearly, the actual walls of the Lost City might have been erected decades, even centuries earlier. Thus, the Time of Pencils would correspond roughly with the period beginning about 50 years after the invention of the printing press and continuing until the demise of newspapers, fact-based journalism, and civil discourse - i.e., shortly before the First Era of the Palinium.

    2. Notable pencil users (source: Wikipedia 2010):
    • Thomas Edison had his pencils specially made by Eagle Pencil. Each pencil was three inches long, was thicker than standard pencils and had softer graphite than was normally available
    • Vladimir Nabokov rewrote everything he had ever published, usually several times, by pencil.
    • John Steinbeck was an obsessive pencil user and is said to have used as many as 60 a day. His novel East of Eden took more than 300 pencils to write.
    • Vincent van Gogh only used Faber pencils as they were "superior to Carpenters pencils, a capital black and most agreeable".
    Archaeologists' preliminary findings to date

    1. Evidence of a city built of highly uniform and unique stone blocks each with 8 vertical faces!

    2. Covered with illustrations some in ink or color but "mostly in Pencil"! Subject matter almost entirely "faces and places."

    3. Blocks might be stacked 2, 3, even 5 levels high, with great stability - how had they done it?

    4. The original use of the buildings was unclear and, thusfar, only a matter of conjecture - perhaps a college, a caravanserai, a castle, a museum, a memorial, a library, a place of public commerce or worship, the home of a feudal lord, a clan, an ancient tribe long since departed, or none of the above.

    5. The artisans - The artist or artists are unknown - like the makers of figurines in Jaina, Campeche, Mexico. The subjects in the Lost City were more likely to be ordinary villagers, musicians and crafts people rather than great warriors or leaders. The works might have been done by one, several or many artists, over a period of years, perhaps decades.

    6. On the roofs of many of the towers were unique insignia, of which I have photographs - possibly the symbol of a ruler.

    Author's notes:

    1. Technology - Given the rapid pace of scientific and technological change, drawing by hand was rendered obsolete by technological advances of centuries past. Even primitive scientific marvels - e.g., photography, film, television, iPhones, etc. could instantly, effortlessly, and accurately record and transmit images and events. Anyone would have had to be a damn fool - excuse me: a bit of a nut, a contrarian, or desperately poor - to prefer drawing by pencil over such significant scientific advances. The inevitable demise of the Time of Pencils seems to have coincided with the rise of our Post-Modern Art Renaissance. That a few Pencils still exist at all today can be attributed to their exterior casings being used to advertise consumer products.

    2. Place - For now, the Archaeology team has prudently withheld the precise location of the Lost City - fearing lack of security of the email service, hacking, piracy, etc. How to reconcile previous different sightings of the Lost City on various continents? The City could have been on almost any continent but not anywhere. Such a City would have had to be in or near great mountains, which would serve as a quarry. Nearby lakes or rivers would have been needed for irrigation, agriculture and drinking water as well as access to food, ink, colors and pencils. etc. And of course there needed to be a means of lifting and finishing the giant stone blocks - a challenge successfully surmounted by the Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and Egyptians.

    3. Unlike other great civilizations, there seem to be no monuments to great battles, violence, tributes to kings, even hunting expeditions. (One wonders why.)

    4. Many questions linger.
    • What of the other reported sightings?
    • Might there have been more than one Lost City?
    • Where? Why there?
    • Where was the quarry, the source? How did they move the stones?
    • Where had they gone? (The occupants, the artists, or the subjects depicted)
    • Why Pencil?

    Sargent - Interest in the Lost City has led to scholarly inquiry as well as considerable speculation with regard the surveyor Sargent (Surgent was rejected as an unlikely interpretation.) Might there be some connection to John Singer Sargent, American artist (1856-1925) from the Time of Pencils? Other than both using the same tools, it's hard to find any. Born abroad, in Florence, the painter travelled widely, particularly in Italy, France and England. He was a remarkable draftsman and water colorist. But there is nothing to connect him with the surveyor Sargent or his birthplace, Paducah KY.

    Numbers - Much has been made of the numbers he may have muttered to himself, 72727. What is it? A date - July 27th of a year ending in 27. Perhaps a location? Was the surveyor referring to latitude, or longitude? 7degrees, 27 minutes, 27 seconds? Clearly, it was not a zipcode - Elkins, Arkansas. Some went so far as to suggest the the number was wrong - that it should have been 772727. If that were the number and longitude, it might be the regional capital Chandigarh, India designed by le Corbusier, or Washington, DC., planned by L'Enfant. A study of the proportion of the "windows" of The Lost City reveals a consistent ratio of window height to width of 0.772727. Mathematicians were quick to point out that is the number 17 divided by 22 - the ratio of the sides of an ordinary letter-sized piece of paper - 8.5" by 11".


    Travel often involves shifts in our normal framework of Space, Time, and Memory. It triggers associations. Our mind plays tricks and we participate in the game - remembrances of friends, conversations, relationships, meals, historic references, occasional flights of fancy. In Jerusalem, one walks into the Old City and is immediately transported by sights, smells and sounds to another time and place. The same may happen on a visit to Venice, the Yucatan, to Patagonia, into the Grand Canyon, to Antarctica or Angkor Wat - an escape to worlds without technology. On returning, just as suddenly, one is greeted with busses, hotels; western dress, architecture and custom; a cacophony of noise, busy-ness, and appalling headlines.

    The Lost City is the human mind. It is simultaneously a network of many experiences, places and times; ideas and recollections. The building blocks can be created, selected, discarded, connected, stacked or rearranged in an infinite number of ways - at will or by accident.

    With each step taken, a host of possibilities for the next step arises. Sometime we simply move forward unquestioning. Other times, we pause and weigh options. The pencil affects Pace (not space, pace or speed). We must move slowly enough to observe, stay in close touch with what we are seeing, yet fast enough to capture the gesture of the subject who may disappear at any moment.