Telling time by the Sun
Sundial sculpture dedicated
By Lou Varricchio
Sundials date back to ancient times. The unusual devices are based on a surprisingly simple way to tell time-they tell time based on the position of the Sun and the correct angle of the sundial itself; a shadow cast on the timeface indicates the hour of the day.
While the Green Mountain State may not be number one in annual sunshine-we'll concede that to the Sunshine State-it never-the-less is number one for its creative, innovative artisans.
Vermont sculptor Kate Pond and sundial designer Bill Gottesman of Precision Sundial LLC have teamed up to create the state's largest sundial. Both a work of art and a masterpiece of craftmanship, the new sundial is getting national attention.
Pond and Gottesman teamed up two years ago when they received a commission from Champlain College to create a unique solar timepiece for a new student welcome center.
The large stainless steel clock stands besides the new welcome center, Perry Hall, a just restored circa-1859 brick mansion.
Several historic mansion grace the campus in Burlington's venerable Hill Section.
The Italianate-style structure was the former home of 19th century diplomat Edward Phelps; it was later sold to John J. Flynn who started the Chittenden Bank. The Phelps-Flynn mansion is one of the few antebellum mansions remaining in Burlington. It will be formally dedicated as Perry Hall next month.
To kick off last week's event, 50 members of the National Sundial Society were on campus for the sculpture dedication. Students, faculty and staff members were also on hand to witness the unveiling. One guest was seen setting her wristwatch by the sundial's solar time.
"While students might not be able to use it to always get to class on time, it is accurate and able to show the correct time both during daylight saving and standard time," Gottesman said.
A plaque at the sundial easily explains how the device works. Of course you'll need sunshine to tell the time.
According to Roger Bailey of the National Sundial Society, "This new sundial is beautiful in two ways. It is artistic and it is correct. The mystery of the universe, time, and the sense of the relationship between the Sun and the Earth is all captured in the essence of this sundial."
Check It Out: The Pond and Gottesman sundial is open to the public throughout the year. It is located in a pocket park located next to Perry Hall on the Champlain campus at 251 South Willard St. in Burlington's Hill Section.
Sundials: the basics
•The sundial's shadow caster is called a gnomon. It is attached to a plate which has time markings. The markings almost always show hours, sometimes local solar time, on the face.
•Local time (or LAT, short for Local Apparent Time) includes longitude, between minus 30 to plus 30 minutes.
•Sundials and the Sun are rarely synchronized; this difference is known as the EOT or Equation of Time. The EOT changes are, plus or minus, 16 minutes.
•Date indicators (produced as declination lines or curves) are part of the design of many European sundials. Some sundials include the hours until the next sunset, known as Italian lines, and provide more useful time information for sundial users.
Courtesy of National Sundial Society