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Restoring an American Treasure: The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley
June 8 - September 3, 2012
The Saint Louis Art Museum the opened the free summer exhibition Restoring an American Treasure: The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley on June 8, 2012. The second of a two-part exhibition series, this behind-the-scenes look at conservation of the 348-foot panorama is a continuation of work begun in June 2011.
Commissioned circa 1850 by Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson, the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley was painted by artist John J. Egan. As both works of art and theatrical enterprises, panoramas entertained audiences and educated them about parts of the world they might never see in person. The Museum's presentation of this in-gallery conservation project provides visitors with the opportunity to view the last surviving panorama of the Mississippi River.
Artifacts including ceramic vessels and stone figures from Dickeson's collection are new to the exhibition this year. Collected in the course of excavations at various sites illustrated in the panorama, these objects complemented Dickeson's exhibition of the massive painting.
Three drawings from Dickeson's journals are also new to the exhibition. These drawings relate directly to the panorama's scene 20, Huge Mound and the Manner of Opening Them, which illustrates an excavation in progress. Dickeson pointed to his drawings as evidence of the authenticity of the scenery within the panorama. The 25 scenes present sensationalized versions of various historical moments -- the burial of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and an 18th-century battle -- as well as views of ancient mound complexes with steamboats passing; the activities of 19th-century Native Americans; the excavation of a mastodon skeleton; and a natural disaster.
Led by Paul Haner, the Museum's paintings conservator, a team of conservators will work to complete restoration of the circa1850 painting. The team includes Mark Bockrath of West Chester, Pennsylvania, who assisted in 2011 with phase one of Restoring an American Treasure. Three conservators-in-training will also work on the project.
With conservation by Paul Haner, paintings conservator, and curatorial oversight by Janeen Turk, senior curatorial assistant, Restoring an American Treasure will be on view in the Main Exhibition Galleries from June 8 through September 3, 2012. Once fully restored, the panorama will be included in the future reinstallation of the Museum's American art galleries. For more information, including panorama images, please visit slam.org/panorama.
This restoration project is made possible through the support of U.S. Representative William "Lacy" Clay and former U.S. Senator Christopher S. "Kit" Bond by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Financial assistance for this project has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Free admission to this exhibition has been provided by PNC Arts Alive.
The first panorama was patented by Irish artist Robert Barker in 1787. Barker's panorama was a painted, 360-degree scene mounted on the interior of a cylindrical room, meant to be viewed from a central platform. Barker had many imitators and competitors, all anxious to exploit the panorama format.
The first moving panoramas appeared as circular panoramas became more common. Like circular panoramas, moving panoramas possessed a dramatic horizontal dimension, but instead of being arranged in a 360-degree sweep around a viewer, the long painted strip of a moving panorama was viewed one scene at a time. Moving panoramas were mounted on two upright cylinders and then rolled from one cylinder to the other. As the scenes scrolled, they offered the illusion of passing scenery. While circular panoramas required specially constructed buildings for display, moving panoramas could be exhibited in any space that could accommodate their large size. As a result, moving panoramas were less expensive and more portable than earlier, circular incarnations.
By the mid-19th century, the moving panorama had eclipsed its circular predecessor in popularity with American audiences. The presentation of moving panoramas became a spectacle of both entertainment and education. Accompanied by music and explanatory narration, moving panoramas were seen as a way to recreate the experience of travel.
Around 1850, Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson, a Philadelphia-born doctor and amateur archaeologist, commissioned artist John J. Egan to create a moving panorama depicting the Mississippi River Valley. Interested in the ancient past of North America, Dickeson spent years excavating ancient mounds and prehistoric sites along the Mississippi River Valley. He used the panorama as a visual aid to accompany the lecture series and exhibitions that he developed to educate the American public about the archaeology of their country.
Using Dickeson's field sketches as a starting point, Egan created a 25-scene panorama. The panorama illustrates a variety of historical moments, including the 16th-century burial of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto; an 18th-century battle; and the lives of 19th-century Native Americans. Egan also showcased a number of the mounds Dickeson explored, including one in cross section, which Dickeson used to explain his discoveries and the excavation process.
While Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley was once one of about six known panoramas depicting the landscape along the Mississippi River, it is now the only survivor. Serving not only as an example of a once-popular form of entertainment, the Dickeson panorama illuminates 19th-century views about archaeology and the ancient past of North America.
Interpretive elements have been revised to address questions frequently asked during the 2011 exhibition, including those regarding the process of becoming a conservator and the ownership history of the panorama.
A high-definition camera mounted overhead allows visitors to observe conservation work performed on the panorama while it is positioned horizontally.
Computer interactives are available for visitors to closely inspect details of each scene and learn about subjects depicted.
A blog will track the conservation progress, offer insight into the work of a conservator, feature interviews with historians and archaeologists, and provide a forum for questions.
Each lead conservator has a master's degree in conservation and over thirty years of professional experience.
Paul Haner, paintings conservator at the Saint Louis Art Museum, leads the conservation team for Restoring an American Treasure. Mr. Haner has been with the Museum for 24 years.
Mark Bockrath is a paintings conservator in private practice in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Mr. Bockrath assisted the Museum in 2011 with phase one of Restoring an American Treasure and will lend his assistance this summer during several weeks of the exhibition schedule.
For these interns, working on the panorama is an important part of building a portfolio of experience, a critical element of their journey toward conservation graduate programs.
Jacqueline Keck graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting and a minor in art history. Ms. Keck joins the Museum for the first time this summer.
Nicole Pizzini returns to Restoring an American Treasure after assisting with the first phase in 2011. Ms. Pizzini earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Illinois Wesleyan University. She resides in Chicago where she previously worked as a conservation assistant for the Field Museum and currently works for Parma Conservation, restoring artwork of various media.
Heather White also returns to Restoring an American Treasure after assisting with the first phase in 2011. Ms. White earned a Bachelor of Arts in art history and archaeology from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has previously worked on archaeological projects in Nebraska and Indiana and as a curatorial intern at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Ms. White is currently an art handler at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis.
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Works in the Exhibition
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