UVA Today and the major news outlets recently reported on a discovery from U.Va.’s Jeffersonian past. A Chemical Hearth—part of an instructional chemistry lab from the 1820s—was found during current Rotunda renovations sealed behind a wall on the basement floor of the east oval room, where it had remained hidden from view since the 1850s, and safe from the ravages of the 1895 Rotunda fire. The story was not news to Will Rourk, Information Visualization Specialist for the Digital Media Lab (DML) in the Robertson Media Center of Clemons Library, who got a heads-up about the find in March of 2014 from Mark Kutney, Lead Conservator for The Office of the Architect.
Soon after the hearth was uncovered DML staff went to the site and used the Lab’s FARO Focus 3D scanner to capture 3D images of the hearth. But the hearth’s discovery and imaging is not the complete story. Although the hearth will remain open and on display in the Rotunda after renovations are completed, the masonry of previously unknown reverse arches that came to light when the floor above was taken up will not. The arches will be covered by a new floor, perhaps never to be exposed again. The DML, however, scanned finely detailed images of the arches that will be available for scholars and students of Jeffersonian architecture to see and study in the future.
Rourk says recording and preserving the measured data of historical finds like those in the Rotunda ensures that the past will never truly be lost. It is particularly important, he says, that the 3D scans of U.Va.’s architectural treasures are being undertaken by the Library, whose mission is not only to preserve and archive material but to make it available for study and appreciation. The DML has scanned and printed replicas of artifacts with identical texture and detail from Monticello’s Mulberry Row where they are displayed while the originals remain safe; and has recorded how the University once looked and worked, discovering where a serpentine wall in Pavilion VI was repositioned, for instance, and scanning an 1850 cistern in the Rotunda’s eastern courtyard. The DML also meticulously scanned the names workmen inscribed into the mortar of the cistern’s interior, hoping to leave a record of their work. Thanks to the DML the names Charles Carter and J W Brand will be seen and their work appreciated in ways they never could have imagined.
For more on the DML’s work with historical preservation please see Will Rourk’s blog Reality Capture Data @ UVA