The Media Studies Experience: Restoration Ball Throughout the Decades

We are pleased to feature a guest post by Susan Gravatt, Fourth-Year Media Studies major/Religious Studies minor and blogger for The Media Studies Experience.

Saturday, March 22, 2014, from 9pm to midnight on Peabody Lawn, students will come together for the 51st Annual Restoration Ball. Each $25 ticket enables students and alumni of the University of Virginia to support the restoration of the Rotunda.

Just as the Rotunda has seen numerous changes and renovations in the past, the Restoration Ball itself has evolved in unusual and surprising ways since it began in the 1960s. In sifting through materials at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, I had the unique opportunity to step back in time and follow the history of this grand occasion.

(Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

One of the many posters from the Restoration Ball Ephemera collection, 1981. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard about this year’s Restoration Ball, but I do know that I found out about it through the now-standard event invitation service that Facebook provides. While posters certainly may be on Grounds (though I have personally not seen any), the Restoration Ball ephemera collection includes a series of posters from the 1960s to the 1980s. Some of the posters feature photographs of the Rotunda while others, like the one above, showcase a drawing or sketch.

Part of me is somewhat sad that these posters are not more abundant today. As I flipped through and photographed these older relics in Special Collections, I couldn’t help but wonder what materials will enter the library to mark the 51st event? Will Special Collections print a screenshot of the Restoration Ball website or the Facebook event? There is a certain nostalgia or romanticism that this poster and the others like it evoke, but checking out the online information about this year’s ball doesn’t have the same effect. Having the ability to hold a poster in my own hands made an event prior to my own birth come to life for me.

(Image by U.Va. Digitization Services)

Restoration Ball in the Rotunda, May 15, 1965 (RG-30/1/10.011. University of Virginia Image by U.Va. Digitization Services)

Before my visit to Special Collections, I did not realize that the Restoration Ball took place in many different locations throughout the years. As the image above shows, many of the earlier balls were actually held in the Rotunda!  According to the primary sources I consulted, by the 1980s, there was a permanent move away from the Rotunda and to Newcomb Ballroom, Peabody Lawn, and other larger, open spaces across Grounds that could accommodate a growing student body. Although I am excited to attend the event myself tomorrow evening, I must say that I am envious of those who danced in the Rotunda. For now, I’ll have to live vicariously through this photograph of past students who enjoyed that luxury. But what I wouldn’t give to have attended the ball in 1965…

Restoration Ball Dance Booklet (Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

A dance request booklet for Restoration Ball guests. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

Inside of dance request booklet.

Inside of dance request booklet. (LD5680 .R87 R47. Photograph by Susan Gravatt)

Although I spent almost an hour combing through the various articles and objects in the ephemera collection, the dance request booklet is, perhaps, my favorite find. Because tomorrow night’s Restoration Ball will be my first, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. However, I suspect I will not make song or dance requests to a deejay or live band by writing them down in a booklet. This nifty item enabled guests in the past to do just that.

My research on the Restoration Ball this week left me feeling the way that I do many times after leaving Special Collections. I always wonder how much students would enjoy this rich resource if they really understood the depths of its archives. Special Collections is not a building full of artifacts but rather a home for treasures that gives students a taste of both the history of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

Special Collections makes history real and exciting because it enables me to put my student experience in a broader context. I am attending the Restoration Ball in 2014, yes, but I am becoming part of a tradition that has spanned for decades. Special Collections documents these histories and activities that are intrinsic and central to the core of student life at the University of Virginia.

But if dancing and Restoration Balls aren’t your thing, I guarantee that if you spent time in Special Collections, you would discover surprising parallels between the past and your time and interests at U.Va., and beyond.

My research in Special Collections gave me one more reason to get excited about my first Restoration Ball and the 51st for the University of Virginia, tomorrow night.



This Just In: Rotunda Redivivus

Right now U.Va.’s iconic Rotunda—the centerpiece of Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village” and the U.Va. Library’s original home—is undergoing a multi-year, $50 million restoration. These have been interesting times for sidewalk supervisors and armchair architects as the restoration work reveals hitherto unknown details about the Rotunda’s design and construction.  It has also been an interesting time Under Grounds, for we have fortuitously acquired two early images of the Rotunda previously lacking from our collection.  Although these images do not advance our understanding of the Rotunda’s architecture, they do enhance our knowledge of its early iconography.

The Lawn, as it appeared in Roux de Rochelle, Stati Uniti d'America (Venice, 1839)   (E178 .R8216 1839).

The Academical Village, as it appeared in Roux de Rochelle, Stati Uniti d’America (Venice, 1839) (E178 .R8216 1839).

The two newly acquired images are engraved plates in the Italian (Venice, 1839) and Spanish (Barcelona, 1841) translations of Jean Baptiste Gaspard Roux de Rochelle’s États-Unis d’Amérique. This history and description of the United States, first issued in 1837 as part of the series, L’univers, histoire et description de tous les peuples, proved popular and was reprinted several times. Perhaps its major selling point was the 96 engraved plates depicting historical personages and events, as well as numerous contemporary American views. Plate 87 is of special interest, as it depicts U.Va.’s Academical Village as it looked in the mid-1820s, after the Rotunda, faculty pavilions, and student rooms had been completed.

U.Va. has long held copies of the Paris, 1837 and 1838 editions, and the Stuttgart, 1838 German translation.  That we lacked the Italian and Spanish translations was brought to our attention this fall, when a collector offered to donate copies: “I should tell you that I’ve removed the U.Va. plates, but perhaps you could use the books anyway?”  We politely declined the gift, choosing instead to purchase complete copies on the antiquarian market.  To our knowledge, only the Mexico [City], 1841 Spanish edition still eludes our dragnet.

The Academical Village as it appeared in Roux de Rochelle, États-Unis de’Amérique (Paris, 1837) (E178 .R82 1837)

The Academical Village as it appeared in Roux de Rochelle, États-Unis de’Amérique (Paris, 1837) (E178 .R82 1837)

Although the text mentions U.Va. only in passing, it was through the engraving in Roux de Rochelle’s work that many Europeans first learned of U.Va. and its distinctive architecture. What few readers probably realized is that Roux de Rochelle’s knowledge of U.Va. was by no means first-hand. Born in 1762, Roux de Rochelle had served as French consul in New York during the early 1820s, returning as French Minister to the U.S. from 1830 to 1833. Perhaps it was then that he saw a copy of John Howard Hinton’s two-volume History and topography of the United States, published in London, New York, and Philadelphia from 1830-1832. Roux de Rochelle evidently decided to write a similar work for a French audience, and though the text is quite different, its many engraved plates are largely copies of those prepared for Hinton’s work. Indeed, Hinton’s plate 81 is an identical view of U.Va.’s Academical Village.

Plate 81 from John Howard Hinton, The history and topography of the United States (London & New York, 1830-1832) (E178 .H691 1830)

Plate 81 from John Howard Hinton, The history and topography of the United States (London & New York, 1830-1832) (E178 .H691 1830)

But even Hinton’s plate is derivative, for its immediate source was the highly detailed view of U.Va., engraved by Benjamin Tanner, that appears on the top left sheet of Herman Böÿe’s famous 1826 wall map of Virginia. For Hinton’s work, Tanner’s engraving was copied in New York by landscape artist William Goodacre, whose drawing was sent to London to be engraved on steel by artists in the employ of Fenner Sears & Co. The Hinton engraving is smaller in size and less detailed than Tanner’s view, though some effort was made to render the architectural elements relatively faithfully.

Benjamin Tanner's 1826 engraved view of the newly opened University of Virginia.

Benjamin Tanner’s 1826 engraved view of the newly opened University of Virginia.

In preparing Roux de Rochelle’s work for the press, the Paris publisher commissioned 96 full-page engraved reproductions of existing artworks. Some of the sources are credited in the text, though the liberal copying of plates from Hinton’s work goes unmentioned. In the Roux de Rochelle plate—signed by “Arnoult” as designer [sic] and “Traversier” as engraver—the Hinton view is reduced still further in size and the architectural details muddied somewhat. One wonders whether the book’s European readers could derive from this view an informed appreciation of Jefferson’s architectural vision.

The Academical Village reinterpreted for the German translation of Roux de Rochelle: Vereinigte Staaten von Nord-Amerika (Stuttgart, 1838)  (G115 .W4 1838)

The Academical Village reinterpreted for the German translation of Roux de Rochelle: Vereinigte Staaten von Nord-Amerika (Stuttgart, 1838) (G115 .W4 1838)

A year after Roux de Rochelle’s work first appeared in Paris, a German translation was published in Stuttgart. The Stuttgart publisher did not have access to the engraved plates used for the Paris edition—indeed, per the custom of these pre-copyright days, he likely did not bother to obtain permission to translate and republish the work—so it was necessary to commission German artists to re-engrave the 96 plates. The U.Va. view is a very close copy, albeit a less careful rendering; and while the engraver dutifully reproduced the buildings, he took a bit of artistic license with the human figures on the Lawn.

The following year, the Venice publisher of the Italian translation faced an identical problem and solved it in the same way, by commissioning copies of the 96 plates. And once again, various architectural details have been lost or distorted when re-engraved, and minor liberties taken with the human figures.

The French plate reused, with added captions in Spanish, in Roux de Rochelle, Historia de los Estados-Unidos de América (Barcelona, 1841)  (E178 .R8218 1841)

The French plate reused, with added captions in Spanish, in Roux de Rochelle, Historia de los Estados-Unidos de América (Barcelona, 1841) (E178 .R8218 1841)

Not so with the Spanish translation published in Barcelona in 1841, however. Here the publisher evidently sought and obtained permission to illustrate the edition with the Paris engravings, to which an additional caption in Spanish has been added. (Presumably the Mexico City edition is a reissue of the Barcelona printing and also contains the Paris engravings, but perhaps not.)

The Hinton plate reappeared in the 4th edition (London & New york, 1850?) with an added decorative border (E178 .H691 1850)

The Hinton plate reappeared in the 4th edition of The history and topography of the United States of America (London & New York, 1850?) with an added decorative border (E178 .H691 1850)

And what, finally, of the Hinton plate? Although absent from the second edition of Hinton’s work (Boston, 1846), it reappears in the third and fourth editions (London and New York, 1849 and [1850?]), but with a new caption and an added decorative border.