Restoration of 1926 Model of the Academical Village Under Way in Campbell Hall

September 01, 2010

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Jane Ford:

September 1, 2010 — A 1926 model of the University of Virginia's Academical Village is being restored, thanks to a $28,900 Jefferson Trust Grant. Fourth-year architecture history student Brian Cofrancesco spearheaded the efforts to fund the restoration with the support of Architecture School faculty and students.

The model is "an amazing glimpse of U.Va." that's very close to the vision Jefferson had for the University, Cofrancesco said. "It's the only model of the Central Grounds."

"It's the first model and shows the University at a particular point in time and captures it rather stunningly," architectural history professor Richard Guy Wilson said.

The 6-foot-by-6-foot model, made of clay with wood block buildings covered with painted-paper facades, depicts both the Lawn, designed by Thomas Jefferson, and the buildings designed by the prestigious New York architecture firm, McKim Mead & White, which include Cabell, Rouss, Cocke and Garrett halls at the south end of the Lawn and Carr's Hill, the president's house.

The model also represents a few other buildings, some of which remain today, and others that have been lost as construction expanded the University's footprint over the last 84 years.

Where Alderman Library now stands, there was a gatekeeper's lodge and an anatomical theater. Minor Hall and McIntire Amphitheater were in place, and vine-covered arbors connected Cabell to Rouss and Cocke halls. Behind Madison Hall, tennis courts occupied the field now known as Mad Bowl.

People are surprised to see a pond next to Memorial Gym, and that Fayerweather Hall is the only building on the west side of Rugby Road, Cofrancesco said. The Bayly Building, home of the U.Va. Art Museum, wasn't built until 1935.

The model, created by architect William Partridge and the Mindeleff Studio in Washington, D.C., was commissioned at the request of then-University President Edwin Alderman for entry into the Sesquicentennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, a world's fair in celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The original plan was to exhibit the model in the Palace of Education, but the model was not commissioned until June and the fair concluded in December. It went on display in October in the Declaration House in time for the exposition's Virginia Day festivities.

After the expo, the model was displayed in various locations, including the Rotunda, School of Architecture and Office of Admission, before settling in at the School of Architecture in the 1980s. It remained there until 2006, when it was moved to storage because it was in need of repairs.

Working as a curatorial assistant to Wilson, who curated the U.Va. Art Museum's 2009 exhibition, "Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village: The Creation of an Architectural Masterpiece," Cofrancesco came across the model and investigated including it in the exhibit. With painted paper facades peeling off the buildings, accumulated dirt and grime and numerous cracks in the base, the cost of repairs was beyond the exhibition budget.

But Cofrancesco thought the model was too important to lie in storage and feared it would "disappear from the memory of the school and the University," he said.

Scott Nolley, chief conservator for Fine Art Conservation of Virginia, is restoring the overall structural stability, repairing the deterioration wrought by time, humidity and temperature change. After the model is stabilized and dust and dirt is removed, Nolley will stain and paint areas that show damage or fading "to visually reintegrate the damages and fill and replace any disfiguring losses to the various aspects of the model," he said.

"The process is both detailed and extensive, and as you can imagine, working within this model's 'Lilliputian' scale will bring with it a focus on detail that will be both fascinating and fairly tedious," Nolley added.

The restoration will take about three weeks.

Nolley said that other than a few buildings or small groups of trees being re-adhered, he has not detected any previous major restoration efforts.

The model is being restored in its new home, a protected niche on the first floor of Campbell Hall, which will eventually include historical materials about the Architecture School.

Cofrancesco, who has been enamored of Jefferson's accomplishments since he was a boy and has taken every class that he could about Jefferson's architecture and 19th-century architecture, is delighted that he has had a hand in seeing the model returned to the life of the school and the University.

In addition to the model's historical significance as an artifact, it has intrinsic value as a part of the narrative of the University and an educational tool for understanding "Jefferson's layout strategies, early examples of American Classicism and campus design, and the overall principles of designing space as a holistic experience, subjects studied by architectural historians, urban planners, architects, and landscape architects alike," the team wrote in its proposal for funding.  

"It ties us all together," Cofrancesco said.

-- by Jane Ford