SACO MUSEUM TO "ROLL OUT" MOVING PANORAMA SUMMER 2012
June 30 through November 10, 2012
NEW ONLINE DESTINATIONS
Panorama web page:
More than fifteen years of research and restoration will come to a show-stopping finale this coming June at the Saco Museum with a major exhibition and public programs focused on the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress. This summer marks the completion of a major grant-funded project to conserve this national treasure of 19th-century American art, which was thought lost for 100 years and rediscovered only in 1996. For the first time since the 1860s, the entire historic panorama--800 feet of vibrantly painted muslin canvas, in four sections--will be on view in two downtown locations, the Saco Museum and the historic Pepperell Mills. Live performances of a full-scale, modern replica will recreate the historic experience of seeing a moving panorama in action, while the debut of a web-based film animation will introduce the panorama to a global audience. Gallery talks and family activities will also be offered through the summer and fall, including a day-long public symposium with distinguished scholars scheduled for September 21-22, 2012. The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress will be on view June 30 through November 10, 2012; an opening reception will take place on Friday, June 29.
About the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress
The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress illustrates, in a way that no other work of art has done before or since, a moment when ideas about faith, art, and landscape all traveled along the same narrow highway in the course of American life. Also known as Bunyan's Tableau, it was created in 1851 and presented to audiences nationwide throughout the second half of the 19th century. Precursors to the modern motion picture, moving panoramas consisted of immense lengths of canvases painted to depict popular stories, events and locations of the time. Panoramas were presented by scrolling the massive canvas paintings across a stage, accompanied by narration and music. John Bunyan's "Pilgrims Progress," on which this panorama is based, was also a sensation in its time and beyond. Written in 1678 England, it achieved a peak of popularity in 19th-century America, where it became a huge influence upon literature and religion. The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress was one of the most important moving panoramas in the United States, an exceptional example of this genre of painting that bridged high art and popular culture. It was conceived by members of the National Academy of Design in New York, with designs contributed by Hudson River School masters Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, Daniel Huntington, and others. In this way, it relates directly to the developing national school of landscape painting.
After its final performance in York County, Maine, the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress spent many years in a Biddeford barn and was ultimately given to the York Institute (now the Saco Museum) in 1896. The panorama was forgotten as the museum's location moved from building to building, and was periodically closed for wartime uses, throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was not until 1996, a full century after the original gift, that the panorama was rediscovered in the museum's storage vault. It was this discovery that prompted the panorama's partial conservation--approximately one fourth was treated--and exhibition tour in 1999. This current project completes the conservation work begun two decades ago, treating and exhibiting the panorama in its entirety and exploring innovative new strategies to make this immense masterpiece of 19th century American art accessible to audiences and scholars worldwide.
About the Current Restoration Project
In December 2009, The Dyer Library and Saco Museum received a Save America's Treasures grant of $51,940 to support the conservation of the panorama plus the creation of two key interpretive tools: a modern replica that can be displayed in motion, as the panorama was originally designed to be seen, and an interactive video, complete with music and narration, that will be available on the museum's website. The grant project began in January of 2010, when the panorama in its entirety was shipped to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (www.williamstownart.org) in Massachusetts for treatment. Over the course of a year, the staff at Williamstown cleaned the panorama, mended the fabric, and preserved the delicate painted surface. They also made a complete photographic record of every inch of the panorama, front and back.
The photography is a crucial part of the project and the backbone of the interpretive tools also created through the grant-funded award (see below for a full list of funders). Even after conservation treatment, the panorama is too delicate to be displayed in motion, as it was originally mean to be seen; therefore, the digital photographs produced at WACC will be used to create a full-size functional replica that will be used in public performances. The replica is being printed by Designtex (formerly Portland Color), a digital imaging firm with offices in Portland, Maine. The photos will also provide the raw material for a web-based animation of the panorama in motion. This video, which will include a voice narration and music, will be used as a computer interactive in the Saco Museum galleries, and will also be available on the museum website, making the panorama a resource for museum visitors and scholars worldwide. The film is being produced by Back Lot Films (www.backlotfilms.com) of Fremont, New Hampshire.
Exhibition and Public Programs
From June 30 through November 10, 2012, the entire historic panorama--800 feet of vibrantly painted muslin canvas--will be on display in two discrete downtown Saco/Biddeford locations. Three of the four sections of the panorama, about 600 feet, will be exhibited in a former loom room within the Pepperell Mill Campus, part of the historic textile mill complex in downtown Biddeford. This room is one of the few spaces large enough to accommodate the panorama's massive scale; it also provides a meaningful connection to the panorama's mid-19th-century origins. The three sections on view at Pepperell Mill will tell the complete story of the protagonist Christian's perilous journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The remaining fourth section, illustrating the related journey of Christian's wife, Christiana, will be on display in the main gallery of the Saco Museum, alongside an array of prints, books, and other materials relating to the panorama's history, to the panorama tradition, and to the illustrated history of "The Pilgrim's Progress" itself. The exhibition is made possible through a grant from Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution; its presentation at Pepperell Mills is made possible with the cooperation of the Pepperell Mill Campus (www.pepperellmillcampus.com) and the Biddeford Mills Museum (www.biddefordmillsmuseum.org).
On Friday, August 3 at 6:30 and Friday, August 31 at 5:30, there will be live performances of the full-scale replica at Saco's historic City Hall auditorium. This full-scale replica, printed on fabric using digital photography of the original panorama, will be displayed in motion on a scrolling apparatus, recreating the experience that 19th-century audiences would have had in viewing a moving panorama. No one alive today has ever seen a historic panorama performed in motion--the Saco Museum's replica will furnish modern audiences with that absolutely unique opportunity. The web-based film of the panorama will also premiere in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition, with a public viewing at the opening reception on June 29. Subsequent performances of the replica and viewings of the film animation will also take place throughout the duration of the exhibition, along with specialized tours and family activities. Dates and times for these events will be announced separately.
Scheduled for September 21/22, 2012, a public symposium exploring topics related to the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress will be hosted by the Dyer Library and Saco Museum. Because the panorama touches upon so many interconnected subjects--painting, literature, theater, cinema, religion--a wide variety of themes will be explored by scholars from many different fields. Prospective speakers include Kevin Avery, Senior Research Scholar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Erkki Huhtamo, Professor of Media Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles; Russell Potter, Professor of English at Rhode Island College; and Suzanne Wray, an independent scholar of the panorama medium. A full schedule for this symposium, which will be open to the general public, will be available summer 2012.
The preservation and interpretation of the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress is made possible by grants from Save America's Treasures through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior; the Wyeth Foundation for American Art; the Maine Arts Commission; the Davis Family Foundation; the Maine Humanities Council; Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution; and the Gateway Foundation. Creation of the performance replica was expressly supported by a Humanities Infrastructure grant from Maine Humanities Council. Presentation of the Moving Panorama exhibition is made possible by an additional grant from Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution and with the support of the Pepperell Mill Campus and the Biddeford Mills Museum.
Photo: "The Shepherds Point out the Gates of the Celestial City from Hill Clear," design by Joseph Kyle and Edward Harrison May, from The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress, 1851, created by Edward Harrison May (1824-1887) and Joseph Kyle (1815-1863), distemper on muslin, 8 x 800 feet, Saco Museum Collection. Photo by Matthew Hamilton, Williamstown Art Conservation Center.