Panorama Council Celebrates Cyclorama Preservation Project
A large-scale project is underway in Atlanta to preserve a football-field-sized painting, and the International Panorama Council applauds the efforts to save it.
It’s a huge undertaking, rivaled only by the art itself: a 40-foot-tall, 130-year-old painting that’s longer than a football field.
Not only does the $35 million project focus on saving one of the biggest oil paintings in the world—an emblem of a medium that has largely been forgotten—but it also represents the mission of the International Panorama Council.
“It’s just so remarkable that the Atlanta History Center has really taken this on in such a professional [manner] and long-term vision for this painting’s wellbeing,” IPC President Sara Velas said. “And that it will be something that can be shared with the public and used as a teaching tool; and a historical artifact that’s being put in a really interesting context both for civil war history, but also for the history of this medium that was once so popular and a huge part of the public’s imagination, that’s been really relegated to a dusty corner of historical context.”
Panoramas originally gained popularity during the 19th century as a way to entertain people through an immersive experience. She shared that preserving panoramas from this era is a unique challenge, not only because of their size but also because of the engineering involved in their display—such as temperature control, water-damage prevention, and hanging the work in a specialized, cylindrical fashion without creating wrinkles.
IPC conducts advocacy efforts, holds conferences, and connects members to help support such restoration projects as well as the creation of new panoramas. In fact, the curator at the Atlanta History Center and project head, Gordon Jones, is a member of IPC and was connected to conservators through its conferences, Velas explained.
With the attention circulating around the Atlanta Cyclorama, another term for panorama, Velas said IPC will be able to further push its mission and message into the public arena. “It’s a chance for people to gain knowledge about panoramas generally and then be exposed to our institution more specifically, and to learn that this is something, while kind of forgotten, it’s actually still active around the world,” she said.
While IPC conferences can connect those preserving old panoramas with those creating new works, bringing in the public can inform both the art community and new technologies.
“It’s an interesting bridge between this historical presence of the medium, but also things in the present day that are being either conserved or created anew in the spirit of this medium that was more well known in the 19th century,” she explained.
Velas specifically compared the purpose of a panorama to that of emerging virtual reality technology. The art of panorama can instruct students studying virtual reality, as well as companies and organizations looking to harness immersive experiences to promote tourism, learning, or the like.
“When you recognize that this impulse to recreate reality is not something new, it leads you to evaluate more about human consciousness and what are the reasons for doing this or how is this successful or not successful … that can help you think about where you want to go with these newer tools to create a feeling of reality and immersion,” she said.
A small sample of the massive Cyclorama painting. (ninniane/Flickr)