News

SACO MUSEUM WINS PRESTIGIOUS "SAVE AMERICA'S TREASURES" GRANT TO PRESERVE THE MOVING PANORAMA OF PILGRIM'S PROGRESS

The Dyer Library and Saco Museum have received one of 44 Save America's Treasures grants awarded by the National Park Service in 2009. The $51,940 awarded through Save America's Treasures will support the conservation treatment of a rare, 800-foot long painting from 1851 that depicts scenes from John Bunyan's epic "Pilgrim's Progress." The grant will also support the creation of a replica that can be displayed in motion, as the panorama was originally designed to be seen, as well as an interactive video, complete with music and narration, that will be available on the museum"s website.

"We are so excited to finally be able to give this remarkable object the attention that it deserves," said Leslie Rounds, Executive Director of the Dyer Library and Saco Museum. "We are honored and grateful that Save America's Treasures recognizes the national significance of the panorama and the importance of this project."

The grant is one of only two Save America's Treasures awards to Maine institutions this year; the other project will restore the 82-year-old oyster boat "J & E Riggin" in Rockland with funds awarded to the Association for Maritime Preservation.

"Only the most significant projects of the highest historical and cultural value win these grants," said U. S. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME). "We should be proud of these projects and the contributions they make to American History."

About the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress
The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress, also known as Bunyan's Tableau, is an extraordinary work of art created in 1851 and presented to audiences nationwide throughout the second half of the 19th century. Precursors to the modern motion picture, moving panoramas consist of immense lengths of canvases painted to depict popular stories, events and locations of the time. The panoramas were presented by scrolling the massive canvas paintings across a stage accompanied by a lecturer and music. John Bunyan’s "Pilgrim's Progress," on which the Saco Museum's panorama is based, is frequently cited as a predecessor to the modern American novel and was a favorite among participants in the Revivalist movement associated with the Great Awakening. The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress was one of the most important moving panoramas in the United States, emblematic 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. It thus relates directly to the developing national school of landscape painting. Additionally, the subject matter places it squarely in the center of evolving American thought in religion and literature.

After its final performance in Biddeford, Maine the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim's Progress was 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 will build upon the successes of the conservation work achieved a decade ago, treating the remaining three quarters of the panorama and exploring innovative new strategies to make this immense masterpiece of 19th century American art accessible to audiences and scholars worldwide.

About the grant project
The grant project will begin in January of 2010, when the panorama in its entirety is shipped to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts for treatment. Upon completion of the conservation treatment (which is estimated to take approximately one year), the panorama will return to the Saco Museum. Because the panorama is now too delicate to be displayed in motion, as it was originally mean to be seen, the project will then go on to include the creation of a full-size functional replica suitable for performance. Additionally, a Flash-enabled video will be created using high-quality photographs taken by Williamstown's state-of-the-art photo lab. This video, which will include a voice narration and music, will be used as a computer interactive in our galleries, and will be available on our website, making the panorama a resource for museum visitors and scholars worldwide.

About Save America's Treasures
The Federal Save America's Treasures program is one of the largest and most successful grant programs for the protection of our nation's endangered and irreplaceable cultural heritage. Grants are available for preservation and/or conservation work on nationally significant intellectual and cultural artifacts and historic structures and sites. Intellectual and cultural artifacts include artifacts, collections, documents, sculpture, and works of art. Historic structures and sites include historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects.

Grants are awarded to Federal, state, local, and tribal government entities, and non-profit organizations through a competitive matching-grant program, administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The selection process is extremely competitive: this year over 420 applications were received, and only 44 grants were awarded. For more about Save America's Treasures, visit www.saveamericastreasures.org. For a full list of awarded projects, visit http://www.neh.gov/news/archive/pdf/2009_SAT_Awards.pdf.

Photo credits: Christian at the Cross. Design Attributed to 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. Photos courtesy Saco Museum.