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A New Microscope At UVa. Peels Back Layers of History

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email

July 31, 2013

UVa. is always working to keep the look and feel of ground just as Thomas Jefferson left it. Now, the Office of the Architect has a new tool to help determine what's original and what's not.

It's a new microscope that let's them see each layer of paint, wood and paper fibers, and even identify animal hairs. The tool allows them to take steps toward understand the original look of grounds.

In a small room off the UVa. Lawn, lies this powerful machine that can explore the deep history of Thomas Jefferson's university.

Mark Kutney, a UVa. Architectural Conservator said, "Anytime you go into a historic building and you start peeling it apart you want to know what's original and what's not and this tool can be very helpful in answering that type of question."

A recent grant allowed the architect office to buy a research microscope that can literally peel back the layers of time telling what materials and colors were used over the years.

Kutney said, "Really start to look at how the over all exterior appearance of the academical village including the ranges would have been during Jefferson's time."

In the future, the team plans to use the microscope to understand the exact color of the columns, shutters, walls, and railings throughout the entire academical village.

Before, outside consultants were hired to do the same work this microscope can do. Now, all of the discovering can be done on grounds without the extra expense.

Kutney talked about a piece of a shutter and said, "The numerous layers of paint have really softened the edges and created a more rounded appearance."

Once a piece of the shutter is under the microscope, hundreds of years of paint layers can be discovered.

Kutney said, "Down at the bottom you have your first layer. In this case it's a grey. Then you go to a green. Each one of these shows a slight difference in texture and color."

Each discovery telling a unique story about each part of the university.

Kutney said, "It's important that we know where the original material survives so that we can be careful to keep in intact."

The microscope is also going to be used in the classroom for students to see how to use this tool and understand the meaning of each and every layer.


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