ST. LOUIS, MO.-
This summer the Saint Louis Art Museum
will begin a unique and ambitious conservation project to restore a historic treasure of local significance. Restoring an American Treasure: The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, which opened June 12, will offer visitors a chance to see the massive 19th-century work, the last surviving of its kind, as it is restored.
Measuring 348 feet long by 7 feet 9 inches tall, Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley comprises 25 scenes. While the subjects in Panorama vary widely across time and cultures, the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers serve as the backdrop for many of the scenes. The scenes present sensationalized versions of historic moments the burial of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and an 18th-century battle as well as depictions of the activities of 19th-century Native Americans, views of ancient mound complexes with steamboats passing, the excavation of a mastodon skeleton, and a natural disaster.
"By restoring this panorama, the Museum is preserving an important historical element of American visual culture," said Paul Haner, Museum paintings conservator.
Panorama was commissioned by Dr. Montroville W. Dickeson and painted by artist John J. Egan. In the 1850s, Dickeson toured with Panorama, giving his own live narration of the 25 scenes. Both works of art and theatrical enterprises, panoramas were presented to audiences as forms of entertainment and education about parts of the world audience members might never see in person.
"Moving panoramas of the Mississippi River proliferated during the mid-19th century and became a cultural phenomenon," said Janeen Turk, senior curatorial assistant. "Panorama is a truly remarkable work, both in scale and historical importance."
Over two summers, the Museum will assemble a group of conservators to restore the c.1850 painting. Haner will lead a team of conservators including Mark Bockrath, who assisted the Museum in 2009 with the in-gallery conservation project Reviving Antiquity: Restoring Hubert Robert's Views of Ancient Ruins. Three conservators-in-training will also assist with the 2011 project.
The fully-restored Panorama will eventually be installed in the Museum's American Art Galleries.
With conservation by Paul Haner, paintings conservator, and curatorial oversight by Janeen Turk, senior curatorial assistant, Restoring an American Treasure is on view in the Main Exhibition Galleries from June 12 through August 21, 2011.
This restoration project is made possible through the support of U.S. Representative William "Lacy" Clay and U.S. Senator Christopher S. "Kit" Bond by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. Any views, finding, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Exhibition support has been provided by Enterprise Holdings Foundation. Financial assistance for this project has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. Free admission to this exhibition has been provided by PNC Arts Alive.