Editor's note: The Saint Louis Art Museum provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Saint Louis Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

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.

 

Panorama History

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.

 

Visitor Experience

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.

 

Conservators

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.

 

Conservation Interns

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.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Museum conserving this panorama?
 
The Saint Louis Art Museum's Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley is the only surviving Mississippi River panorama. Its preservation is critical to our understanding of popular visual entertainment in the late 19th century. In its current condition without conservation, the panorama cannot be safely displayed for Museum visitors.
 
 
How was the panorama damaged?
 
When the panorama was originally shown, it was constantly scrolled from one roller to another to display the twenty-five individual, fourteen-foot-wide scenes. Distemper paint was used to create the images. The paint is made by mixing animal glue with dry pigment. It becomes brittle with age, and over time, as the panorama was rolled and unrolled, paint was worn from the surface. Additionally, the lightweight cotton fabric developed numerous creases and wrinkles from uneven rolling, resulting in the loss of some paint. The scenes vary in condition; some have little loss, while others have extensive damage.
 
 
How will the work be conserved and documented?
 
With the panorama in a horizontal, "face-up" position, the entire surface is sprayed with a solution of gelatin and water. This serves to relax the creases in the fabric and to consolidate the powdery original paint. The paint losses are retouched by applying layers of pigment with watercolor crayons to match the colors of the original work. Once conservation is complete, the entire panorama will be re-photographed. In the meantime, the photos throughout the exhibition pre-date the current treatment.
 
 
What equipment is needed to support and maneuver the panorama?
 
The panorama has spent decades in storage on a single roller. Last year, a new scrolling display mechanism was manufactured to support the panorama during treatment. This modern version of the 19th-century apparatus is made of lightweight aluminum and allows the scenes to be displayed one at a time. During the conservation process, the painting will lie in a horizontal position for some procedures, and in a vertical position during much of the in-painting. The new display mechanism is motorized to safely elevate and lower the panorama. Scenes will be carefully advanced by hand for safe transition from roller to roller.
 
 
What do conservators do? How do you become a conservator?
 
Conservators are specially trained professionals responsible for the physical care of artworks. They provide preventive treatments, determine safe environmental conditions for individual works of art, and are charged with cleaning, repairing, and stabilizing works of art as needed. Conservators follow a code of ethics that requires them to maintain a high level of standards in treatment.
 
The path to becoming a conservator begins with undergraduate studies in chemistry, art history, and/or studio art. Next, students must find work with a professional conservator. This pre-program experience is a crucial part of the application to graduate programs in conservation studies. Graduate programs usually take the form of a three-year master's degree, which includes two years of coursework and one year of work in a conservation lab.

 

Works in the Exhibition

commissioned by Montroville W. Dickeson, American, 1810-82
painted by John J. Egan, American (born Ireland), active 19th century
Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850
distemper on cotton muslin
90 inches x 348 feet
Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
 
 
printed by Newark Daily Mercury, Newark, New Jersey
Handbill for Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1851
letterpress
Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953hb
 
 
Bottle, c.1500-1700
Mississippian
Excavated on Lewis Plantation, Adams County, Mississippi
ceramic
3 7/8 x 4 1/8 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.30
 
 
Bottle, c.1500-1700
Mississippian
Excavated in southwestern Mississippi
ceramic
5 13/16 x 6 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.29
 
 
Human Effigy Pipe, c.1200-1500
Mississippian
Excavated on the Ferguson Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi
sandstone
5 5/16 x 4 x 5 1/8 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.31
 
 
Feline Effigy Boatstone, c.700-1000
Mississippian
Excavated on the Ferguson Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi
jasper
1 5/16 x 1 3/16 x 4 11/16 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.32
 
 
Effigy Bottle, c.800-1600
Mississippian
Excavated in Adams County, Mississippi
ceramic
4 1/4 x 3 11/16 x 3 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.33
 
 
Montroville W. Dickeson, American, 1810-82
Altar Found on the Plantation of Thos. English, Esq., 1847
watercolor
9 1/16 x 11 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.36
 
 
Montroville W. Dickeson, American, 1810-82
Section of a Mound 16 Feet High, c.1840
pencil and ink
7 3/4 x 11 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.35
 
 
Montroville W. Dickeson, American, 1810-82
Two Mound Views, c.1845
pencil and ink
9 15/16 x 8 inches
Lent by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 2012.34


Resource Library
readers may also enjoy:

 

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Saint Louis Art Museum in Resource Library.

 


Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.