Thomas Jefferson, being a meticulous record keeper, noted a consistent and nearly continuous record of weather observations at Monticello, his personal home. In 1807, Jefferson installed the compass rose to the ceiling of Monticello’s East Portico. The rose connected to a wind vane mounted on the roof and its rotation allowed Jefferson to record which direction the wind was blowing at any given time.
Over the past 212 years, the compass rose has experienced inevitable deterioration. Thanks to water intrusion, the wood and metal elements of the rose have begun to rot and rust, and the friable original paints and finishes have flaked off, resulting in the loss of almost all of the Jefferson-era finish. To counter this, Monticello’s restoration department launched a project to stabilize the compass rose and restore it—as accurately as possible—to how it originally looked when Jefferson was alive.
To find evidence of the original colors and finishes, architectural conservators will occasionally need to dig below the surface. Using a scalpel, tiny samples were taken in protected areas where traces of the original finish may have survived. Conservators can also discern between original and modern coatings by how finishes fluoresce under ultraviolet light. Under the microscope, the historic resins and oils appear different from modern paints.
During the restoration process, conservators placed a layer of clear barrier coat on the compass. This coat protects the original finishes and lets future conservators easily strip the restored paints during their own restoration efforts.
Stabilizing and restoring the compass rose took only a few weeks, and the re-installation happened one evening after Monticello closed to the public.
The newly restored compass rose is now on view, making it a great time for a visit to Monticello!