In Jefferson's Shadow: The Architecture of Thomas R. Blackburn

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In 1999, historians at the Virginia Historical Society acquired three curiously bound volumes of drawings and documents created between 1821 and 1858 by a long — and unjustifiably — forgotten architect named Thomas R. Blackburn.Further inspection revealed that these were, in fact, no ordinary documents, but a unique window onto the life of a distinguished builder and his revered master: Thomas Jefferson. In these extraordinary books, we find Blackburn, at first a young carpenter, engaged in the construction of ...
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Overview

In 1999, historians at the Virginia Historical Society acquired three curiously bound volumes of drawings and documents created between 1821 and 1858 by a long — and unjustifiably — forgotten architect named Thomas R. Blackburn.Further inspection revealed that these were, in fact, no ordinary documents, but a unique window onto the life of a distinguished builder and his revered master: Thomas Jefferson. In these extraordinary books, we find Blackburn, at first a young carpenter, engaged in the construction of Jefferson's famed "academical village" at the University of Virginia. He simultaneously embarked on an ambitious program of architectural study, guided, it appears, by Jefferson himself. The drawings he executed in the four decades that followed — extraordinary ink and watercolor explorations of his many residential and civic commissions — bear witness to his emergence as a mature and prolific architect in his own right. In Jefferson's Shadow is a unique document of the relationship between an unknown but highly skilled country builder and the American statesman widely considered this nation's first gentleman architect. But it is also an indispensable resource on the little-understood practice of architecture in the early and mid-nineteenth century.

Author Biography: Bryan Clark Green, co-author of Lost Virginia: Vanished Architecture of the Old Dominion, studied architectural history at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Virginia. An architectural historian with Commonwealth Architects of Richmond, Virginia, he is adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he teaches historic preservation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568984797
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 12.30 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia, and the architectural education of Thomas R. Blackburn 1
Ch. 2 Designing in Jefferson's shadow : Blackburn's Alebemarle County houses 23
Ch. 3 Stepping out of the shadow : Blackburn's move to Staunton 39
Ch. 4 Building a Jeffersonian architecture of reform : Blackburn's work at the western lunatic asylum 47
Ch. 5 Blackburn's late works in Staunton and Augusta County 67
Conclusion : Thomas R. Blackburn and classical architecture in Virginia 79
Plates
App Catalogue of items in the Thomas R. Blackburn collection
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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    the work and influence of a little-known early American architect

    Thomas R. Blackburn's recently discovered architectural drawings and related papers at the Virginia Historical Society provide a look at his 'architectural education.' Blackburn worked on the University of Virginia with Thomas Jefferson and afterwards went on to build notable buildings on his own in Virginia's Piedmont region and Shenandoah Valley. Among these buildings are the Western Lunatic Asylum and the John A. G. Davis House. The discovered drawings and related papers are reproduced, most one per page, in over 150 color plates following the 100 or so pages of biographical and evaluative text by Green, an architectural historian teaching and writing mostly on Virginia architecture. Overall, text and plates establish Blackburn as an important and in some ways seminal first-generation American architect who widened the geographical range of the classic architecture related mostly to Jefferson.

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