Museum restores North America's longest painting
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“Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World” is a big painting. It measures an impressive 1,275 feet long. It is eight-and-a-half feet tall.
It was created in 1848. It was painted by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington. It captures all aspects of a whaling voyage. That was at a time when the business of whaling was booming in the U.S. It was also strong around the world.
The absorbing artwork once toured the U.S. It traveled on wagons and trains. They stopped in Boston and Buffalo. They stopped in New York and St. Louis. They also stopped in other cities on a national tour.
When displayed, a narrator told stories of hunting and processing whales. The panorama was mounted on a system of cranks and reels to go across a theater stage.
But the painting wore down from so much travel. Its paint started chipping and so the piece was put away in storage.
A team has restored the panorama. It was a 20-year effort. The painting is a quarter-mile-long. It is considered the longest painting in North America. That's according to Jennifer McDermott for the Associated Press.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is in Massachusetts. It poured $400,000 into the effort to conserve, digitize and store the panorama. That's according to Allison Meier of Hyperallergic. She reported on the project in February of 2017.
D. Jordan Berson is a textile conservator who’s managing the project. He tells McDermott he sprayed an adhesive on the panorama to stabilize a paint layer. It had powdered over time. He stitched sections that were taken apart. He repaired thinning areas of the textile and fixed tears.
The museum is currently in the process of finding venue large enough to display the artwork. Because it will be shown as a static piece, the venue will need to be at least 16,000 square feet.
In an effort to mimic the original experience and show the panorama moving once again, every section of the piece has also been photographed. They have been merged into a large digital display.
“It’s a national treasure that’s been out of the spotlight for too long,” Berson tells McDermont.
When it was last on tour, the painting might have been used a recruiting tool. At the time, whaling crews were losing young men to the Gold Rush. Then they attended the touring exhibitions., The audience members would see images of far-away destinations they had likely never traveled to. Those included Cape Horn and Fiji. It was sure to excite their imaginations, Michael Dyer, tells McDermott. Dyer is the museum’s curator of maritime history.
Berson said he hopes that the storied panorama will eventually return to tour some of the cities it once visited.
This time they won’t be recruiting anyone. But one imagines the enormous artwork will likely spark a new conversation on the artwork and the history of commercial whaling. (The ban on which was only issued by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.)