October 22, 2008

Catching the Sun's angle to keep time for 25 years

Sundial creators donate original drawings and history to University Archives


A sundial designed and built on campus and installed in front of Thwing Center on Euclid Avenue has kept time for 25 years. The original designs and photographs of its construction were presented recently as a gift from the creators of the Cleftlands Sundial to University Archives.

The time piece was given to the university by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism's Cleveland chapter in 1983 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the campus group, the Case Western Reserve University Medieval Culture Society, dedicated to preserving the arts and skills of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Members of the SCA gathered for a short reunion in front of Thwing and presented university archivist Helen Conger with the original drawings of the Thwing Sundial, photographs and history of the construction.

Vance VanDoren (CIT '82), who now lives in Lafayette, Ind., kept the original artifacts over the years and donated them to Conger.

"University Archives appreciates receiving these original materials," said Conger, adding that it is valuable in preserving the history of the university.

The SCA is an international organization, divided into 19 kingdoms with 30,000 members, who dress in medieval clothing and recreate events like those which occurred in the Middle Ages and Renaissance period.

In the 1980s, the Medieval Culture Society members were avid SCA participants on the campus.

Among those local members present for handing over the archival materials were Charles "Charley" Knox, an associate astronomer in the astronomy department and who was known in SCA as Karl Ulfson. He was joined by VanDoren (a.k.a. Pieter van Doorn) who fabricated the sundial in the basement of Bingham Building while a graduate engineering student.

The sundial, designed by James Koch (a.k.a. Gladius the Alchemist), is patterned after a 13th century predecessor, which rests atop the Pointe Vecchio in Florence, Italy–and is only one of a few of the pre-Renaissance sundials still in existence.

A major part of the time piece is called the gnomon–a knife-like steel plate that casts a shadow on the sundial's numbered arms to indicate solar time. According to VanDoren, the gnomon's top edge coincides with the central axis of the arms, mounted with its angle of inclination equaling the latitude of Thwing Center and pointing towards true north.

Once the pieces were cut and assembled in the Bingham shop, Knox installed the sundial on its current pedestal in front of Thwing's Euclid Avenue entrance. Over the years, Koch and Knox have maintained the sundial, with Koch periodically painting it to prevent rusting. All three of the sundial's builders continue to participate in SCA events.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, October 22, 2008 12:14 PM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, HeadlinesMain, Support Case, news

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