Monticello's famous white-columned east portico will soon look very different. New research at Monticello shows that Thomas Jefferson had the stone columns and the back portico wall and door frames finished with layers of paint and sand to a dark beige color.
Work is well under way to make the change, and in a week or two, the east front will have a much more classic, monumental look, as Jefferson planned it.For 100 years most thinking about American classic revival architecture could be summed up in the maxim "paint it white." Monticello's columns, with 22 layers of white paint applied after Jefferson's death, have influenced hundreds of thousands of classic revival structures, including the White House.
The work is only a part of a great deal of research going on to restore Monticello to the way it was in Jefferson's later years, when he was still drawing more plans for additions but had run out of money to make them.
The results of two years of archeological digging, headed by resident archeologist William Kelso, were shown last night at a party marking the opening of an exhibition of these findings.
From the terrace near the mansion of Monticello the horizon is a wispy sea of blue clouds, the tops of mountains rise like verdant islands. In 1809 or thereabouts, Thomas Jefferson, country gentleman, lately president of these United States, would sit in his Tuscany pavilion on the edge of his geometric vegetable garden. His painter, Richard Barry, was hard at work, on the major addition to the house on the east -- now the most familiar view of the house. The great stone columns had been moved beyond the new great hall and onto the new east portico. The stone columns from his original portico suffered a bit in the move.
But the nicks and cracks were covered by Barry with a coat of paint, and then a coat of sand blown onto the wet paint, probably using a paint table and a bellows, the whole process repeated twice. The sand probably came from the Rivanna River. The resulting finish looks like stone. The same process was used on the main portico wall at the entry to cover wood scored to look like stone, a process called "rustication," and on the framework surrounding the three great arching Palladian glass doors. Jefferson wanted the portico to look as if all the supporting pieces were stone, like his beloved Roman monuments.
The restoration is being done by Roger Rudder, whose son Tom Rudder recently scraped 28 coats of paint off the columns of the White House, another building remodeled by Jefferson.
The changes in the east portico are part of the continuing research at Monticello carried on by William Beiswanger, monticello architecture historian. Frank Welsh, a paint specialist from Ardmore, Pa., is conducting an extensive sampling by a process much like archeological stratigraphy to determine the original colors of many other places in the house.
Another major result has been a project, according to Beiswanger, to change the principal inside doors from white to their original finish -- paint imitating mahogany, burl and inlays. The doors are pine, but the process was common during Jefferson's day and a door so embellished was found on a third-floor storage room. Later "improvements" had passed it by.
The archeological digs are on either side of Mulberry Row where 19 buildings in a plantaiton industrial village -- including a smokehouse, dairy and nailery -- once stood. Of the 19, only two, a stone house and a stable, still stand.So far, according to Kelso, the 27 archeologists, many of them students from Virginia colleges, and a smattering from as far west as Texas and as far North as Yale, have found some 200,000 artifacts.
One great prize is the long-lost loading wrench for Jefferson's pistol. "It fits exactly," said Kelso.
Other artifacts are buttons, bits of pottery, coins, nails and hammers. "For some reason," said Kelso, "we've found a lot of pieces of porcelain custard cups, as well as many bits of an unusual Chinese Export pattern of pinwheels and sunflowers."
Kelso figures that in one layer of earth, two inches deep and eight feet square, his workers found 1,100 artifacts, including 180 nails, 400 pieces of pottery, fragments of glass and animal bone.
"The great thing for us," said Kelso, "is to be digging at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson was the first scientific archeologist. His 'Notes on Virginia' lay down the basic principles of our profession, that is that the lowest strata of earth is the oldest, and the top layer is the youngest."
In his work, Kelso has been guided by Jefferson's writings. "Everything is just where he said it would be. And when we find something like the glass label from a bottle of Chateau Lafite wine, well, all we have to do is look in the Jefferson letters, and we find where he ordered 250 bottles."
The archeological project is bing funded by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It will continue for another two years. The exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day this summer.
In the long twilight last evening, so near the summer solstice, the weather beautifully crisp and dry, Thomas Jefferson's flowers made bright spots of color in his south lawn at Monticello. Some 75 archeologists, Jefferson experts and admirers gathered. They drank some hard liquor but in deference to Jefferson's view that a nation that drinks wine will never be drunken, they tasted the first bottle of wine from the nearby Barboursville vineyard.
Kelso said that there was some question about the need for archeology at Monticello before he started. "The question culminated in the query, 'Could Jefferson have thrown trash in the yard?'" Kelso's excavation showed that somebody did. And fascinating trash at that.
The restoration work costs considerably more than the original. George Palmer, chairman of the Monticello Foundation, said the wood graining on each of the inside doors now cost $2,000.
As a result of the excavation, the foundation plans to rebuild Jefferson's Tuscany temple in the vegetable garden. James Bear, the resident director, said they also plan to replant the orchard now that there is evidence of where Jefferson planted his trees. Floyd Johnson, the Charlottesville architect who will work on the temple, said he still has not figured out how Jefferson meant the gutter to go.