A Year in the Life of the University of Virginia’s Rotunda

For the past six years, Judith Shatin, professor of music at The University of Virginia, has enjoyed an office in the Stanford White-designed Old Cabell Hall on the Lawn.

She has an inspiring view of Jefferson’s Rotunda.

“I happened to be sitting in Old Cabell, looking at that beautiful scene, when it suddenly occurred to me that what I was experiencing – an incredible play of life going on – was similar to watching a film,” she said. “A subconscious accretion led me to an ‘‘Aha!’ moment – and the idea came to me.”

She called filmmaker Robert Arnold at Boston University. They’d met when both were fellows at Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy, and she knew his films dealt with time in very interesting ways. They decided to mount a still camera atop Cabell Hall, and from February of 2006 to February of 2007, took more than 300,000 photos.

“It was rather complicated,” she said. “There was quite a protracted process of getting permission from the architectural review board, and procuring funding. Then we had to find the equipment to take the pictures at a set time, and to upload them to my office and to Boston University.”

Arnold fashioned the stills into moving images as though a day were unfolding into a year. Lawnmowers race up and down the Lawn. Preparation for graduation takes place in seconds, and the ceremony is over in the blink of an eye. “You get a real sense of the context of things happening,” Shatin said. “It’s everything from the sublime to the humorous.”

While the film was being made, Shatin collected sounds, both in and around the Rotunda, recording interviews about its meaning with students, historians, Jefferson experts and U.Va. alumni. The sound of the piece is based on her recordings.

The resulting fifteen-minute video – a three-minute version is posted below – moves from sunrise to sunset while four seasons zip past.

Jefferson said that the Rotunda represents the “authority of nature and the power of reason.” This is a film that punctuates his thoughts vividly.

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