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On the Road with C.C.A. Christensen: Utah Panorama Paintings

 

Following is text from the exhibition "On the Road with C.C.A. Christensen: Utah Panorama Paintings," being held at the Brigham Young University ­ Museum of Art from March 6 through September 8, 2003.

 

Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831-1912)

 

Danish immigrant Carl Christian Anton Christensen was one of several first generation artists in Utah to utilize the panorama phenomenon. Using this popular artistic format, Christensen depicted events from the scriptures and the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His devotion to his church and its precepts is evidenced in his art and his multiple missions to Scandinavia.

C.C.A., as he was affectionately known, was born November 28, 1831 in Copenhagen, Denmark to parents of humble means. At the age of eleven, C.C.A. was placed in a government-funded orphanage, where he was able to continue his education. During his three years at the orphanage he received training as an artisan while pursuing his academic studies. Impressed by his innovative paper cutouts made for the orphanage Christmas tree, a prominent Copenhagen woman offered to finance C.C.A.'s training at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen.

After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1850, his enthusiasm for his training at the Royal Academy of Art was replaced by his zeal for missionary work. At the end of two consecutive missions to his native Denmark and Sweden, he made arrangements to immigrate to the United States. Along with four other couples, C.C.A. and Elise Haarbye were married on the sailing ship Westmoreland before leaving Liverpool Harbor. Upon arriving in the United States in 1857, they joined a handcart company in Iowa City and made the three-month trek west to Utah.

On arrival in Utah he tried his hand at a number of odd jobs before settling in central Utah's Sanpete County to farm the land. It was not until the early 1880s that C.C.A. realized the religious and financial potential for his art work -- an opportunity to share his testimony of the gospel through art and at the same time realize a profit for his efforts. In addition to creating four panoramas dealing with religious subject matter, he collaborated with his friend and fellow artist, Dan Weggeland, to decorate the ceiling and cornice of the Logan Tabernacle and paint murals for the St. George and Manti Temples. His paintings of pioneer life and his native Denmark documented the life of the Saints in the early history of the Church.


C.C.A. Christensen's Panoramas

 

Panoramas were extremely popular in Europe and the United States during the middle and late 19th century. Danish immigrant-artist Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831-1912) was one of several Utah artists to capitalize on this phenomenon. He was involved with the production of at least four panoramas.

The first panorama was commissioned in 1877 by Indian interpreter and missionary Dimick B. Huntington. C.C.A. Christensen and Norwegian immigrant-artist Danquart Weggeland worked together to create a series of eleven small paintings depicting the religious history of the world from Adam and Eve to Joseph Smith. The panorama, completed in 1878, was to be used as a visual aid by Huntington as he preached to the American Indians about the sacred nature of their history. However, Huntington died shortly after the completion of the panorama and it is not known if he ever exhibited them.

C.C.A. is perhaps best known for his Mormon Panorama that traces the events of early Church history from The First Vision to the Entering of the Salt Lake Valley. With financial backing from his brother, Mads Fredrick Theobald Christensen, C.C.A. began working on this series of 23 paintings in 1878, taking several years to complete them. He traveled with the panorama throughout the intermountain west, lecturing about the events of early Church history and often identifying the participants by name. C.C.A.'s stirring lectures, accompanied by the audience's participation in the singing of hymns, intensified the entertaining experience of the panorama.

By the mid-1880s C.C.A.'s brother offered to finance another panorama, the subject of which was Curious Ways, Manners and Customs of Various Countries, religiously and otherwise to be painted by C.C.A. and his friend, Danquart Weggeland.[1] Frederick traveled with this panorama for two winters. It was a fairly successful business venture. Later he traded the paintings for a share in a sawmill.

C.C.A., along with other artists, also painted a panorama for Charles B. Hancock, Sr. illustrating scenes of early Church history that Hancock and his family experienced. Each of the identified fifteen paintings in this panorama measured 7-1/2 feet by 15-1/2 feet. Hancock is known to have exhibited this panorama in northern Utah in 1883.

This exhibition will concentrate on the two extant moving panoramas created by C.C.A. Christensen, The Mormon Panorama and The Dimick Huntington Panorama.

 

Handbills

 

Handbills such as this were distributed to the community to advertise Christensen's Mormon Panorama. Testimonials and endorsements alluding to the merit of the panorama were frequently used. Here we see the names of prominent Church and civic leaders who encouraged attendance at the panorama. In addition to the handbills, the local newspapers ran advertisements and wrote editorial comments on the exhibition. For many people located in rural or isolated frontier towns, the moving panoramas were their only exposure to the visual arts.

 

The Role of the Panorama in America

 

The panorama began as a stationary 360 degree painting displayed on the interior walls of a circular rotunda and evolved over the years into a variety of forms. The circular panorama did not meet with the same success in the United States that it did in England. It was the moving panorama form, with its continuous scenes of expansive landscapes or consecutive frames of historic and contemporary events that captured the eye of the American public.

The moving panorama appealed to American audiences on several grounds. The first reason was purely practical -- the moving panorama was easily transported from town to town and could be displayed in any kind of meetinghouse, school, hall, or theatre. Secondly, the format of the moving panoramas tended to reinforce the idea of the vast American frontier. And thirdly, it provided didactic entertainment for "the uncultivated intelligence."[2] The moving panorama, accompanied by rousing lectures, musical entertainment, and embellished advertising claims, remained popular throughout the 19th century.

 

What is a Moving Panorama?

 

A moving panorama consists of a series of paintings stitched together to form one continuous canvas. Some panoramas were wound from one upright spool to another, allowing the painted scenes to scroll horizontally behind a proscenium or frame giving the illusion of passing scenery as seen from a moving vehicle. Others, such as the narrative panoramas in this exhibition, scrolled vertically.

Without leaving the comfort of his chair, a sightseer could travel the waters of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, journey down the Rhine or the Nile, traverse the Overland Route to California, visit the Holy Land, and sail across the Atlantic Ocean. But the moving panoramas included more than scenic travels. Historical events such as the Sioux uprising of 1862, the Civil War, and the history of Mormonism as well as narratives based on well-known works such as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and John Milton's Paradise Lost found a place on the thin canvases of the painted panoramas. The moving panorama seemed to satisfy the human yearning for knowledge of other peoples, cultures, and exotic lands beyond the audience's sphere of experience.


Notes

1. Kate B. Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, vol. 9 (1966) 410.

2. George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage, vol. 6 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931) 499.


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