Our feature on four new books on Thomas Jefferson and the early University opens with the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial, with special reference to a 19½-foot plaster prototype of the statue inside. To get to that scale, sculptor Rudulph Evans first created a 4½-foot model and then a life-size one. It’s that second one—approximating Jefferson’s 6-foot, 2½-inch frame—that UVA has possessed since 1944. That’s the one we sought to illustrate our story.
First, we had to find him. That Jefferson had spent years at the Darden School of Business, likely trying to acquire the financial savvy that had eluded him in life. Giving up and, as we’d hope anyone from an earlier day would do, he came to hang out at Alumni Hall. More recently, he welcomed Fralin Museum of Art patrons, there for a retrospective of his architecture. When the show wrapped, so was he, in heavy plastic, and moved to storage.
That’s where photographer Adam Ewing found our Thomas and coaxed him out of his crate. We asked Ewing to portray Jefferson in a series of different lighting. It’s a metaphor for our cover story, which explores how historians’ portrayal of Jefferson can reflect their times as much as his.
UVA’s Merrill D. Peterson, after decades of chronicling Jefferson, admitted that his subject was “the least self-revealing” of the founders and “an impenetrable man.” Which of Ewing’s images captures Jefferson in his true light? You tell us. Or, as our story suggests, that may have to wait for a later generation.
S. Richard Gard Jr. (Col ’81)
Vice President, Communications, UVA Alumni Association