SEE IT LIVE!
Over 500 people this summer and full have been amazed by the theatrical production of the 800 foot long replica of the Pilgrim’s Progress Panorama in motion. The show features music and a riveting narration — just as the original was meant to be seen — at 6:30 pm, today, Friday, November 2, at Saco City Hall, 300 Main Street.
Also, for this performance only, pianist extraordinaire Jeff Rapsis will be joined by narrator Will Rankin. A crew of volunteers will be rolling 42 beautiful images across the historic Saco City Hall stage.
The historic panorama–800 feet of vibrantly painted muslin canvas, in four sections–is on view in two downtown locations, the Saco Museum and the historic Pepperell Mills. This exhibition closes on November 10, so make sure you get there this week. Join the 3000 people who have seen this amazing 1851 painting.
Live performances of a full-scale, modern photographic replica recreate the historic experience of seeing a moving panorama in action, and a new web-based film animation has introduced the panorama to a global audience.
So be there Friday when the Saco Museum presents the fourth and final performance of the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress. A full house of 200 loved the show on Sept. 21, as well as the backstage tour of the mechanism. $5 is a suggested donation at the door. Please consider joining us.
There’s lots more information about the project, including pictures and video, at: http://www.sacomuseum.org/panorama
It’s been a great fall for art-historical conversations in Maine. A month ago, as recorded on this blog, some 40 art historians and others gathered at Saco City Hall for a day of conversation about the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress and the moving panorama tradition. A breakout session that day was a prelude to a meeting of the Maine Historians of American Art at the Portland Museum of Art the next week. And then on Sunday, October 14, many of the same individuals—plus what looked like at least 100 others—met at the PMA once again for an afternoon dedicated to discussing Winslow Homer’s late seascapes, the subject of the current exhibition at the PMA.
All the presentations—by Karen Sherry, Wanda Corn, and Marc Simpson—were fantastic, but it was something Marc Simpson said that got me thinking specifically about panoramas. Homer’s late seascapes were, for the most part, painted at his studio on Prouts Neck, Maine, and were the result of direct observation of the surf crashing on the rocks right there in his front yard. The paintings were something of a departure for Homer, whose previous work had almost invariably included prominent human figures, and both he and his dealers knew it. There was, apparently—as Simpson demonstrated—a lot of conversation about how to guide the viewing experience of these works so that they would be seen and comprehended in the right way. Letters between Homer and his dealer, M. Knoedler & Co., show that Homer wanted his paintings viewed at a distance in order to heighten the illusion that they created.
I’m paraphrasing, but what I remember is that Homer argued that since he was 60 feet away from the breakers when he painted them, the viewer should be 60 feet away from the painting when viewing the paintings. This was impossible, of course—Knoedler’s gallery wasn’t anywhere near big enough to engender such a viewing experience—but still, Homer hyperbolized effectively enough so that distance was enforced by hanging the paintings relatively high and putting ropes in front of them, preventing people from putting their noses to the canvas in the way that Homer so disparaged. In fact, in one of his letters he added a cartoon of a man doing exactly that, adding the inscription, “He can’t see it.”
What’s so fascinating about this, to me, is that it stresses how much those late seascapes—even though they are often lauded as gateways to modernism, and even though many of them were, in fact, painted in the early years of the 20th century—are resolutely 19th-century paintings. As the panelists observed on Sunday, that’s such a 19th-century approach to creating and displaying art: to see it as a window to the world and an illusion that is made more or less effective through tricks of display. Homer’s insistence that his seascapes can only be truly “seen” from a distance reminds me of the way earlier American artists like Frederic Edwin Church chose to display their paintings as stand-alone attractions, housed in ornate frames like theater prosceniums, underscoring the fact that the painting was meant to transport you to another place or time, to create the illusion of being someplace else. Homer’s paintings were being displayed in midtown Manhattan galleries, but he wanted the viewers to at least momentarily feel as though they were on the piazza of his studio in coastal Maine.
The theater-like presentation of works like Church’s Heart of the Andes was very influenced by the panorama tradition, particularly the moving panorama tradition, in which curtains, prosceniums, dramatic lighting, and other theatrical conventions were used to create an illusion of place. As we know, Church had contributed to The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress just a few years before Heart of the Andes was completed, so he had more than a passing familiarity with the visual tricks of moving panoramas. What’s interesting here, though, is the tantalizing idea that Homer might have known and employed some of those tricks as well, and that the panoramic heritage in landscape painting, to some degree, may have endured right up through Homer. What remains to be explored is the degree to which Homer intended it to be so.
Born in 1836 and a working man of the world well before the Civil War, Homer surely would have had the chance to see moving panoramas in Boston and New York. He also knew Church’s work and that of others done in the same vein—the kind of “Hudson River School” painting that is so often pointed out as the inheritor of the panorama tradition. But until the 1880s, when he begins to create his pure seascapes, Homer’s work has little to do with the vast, distant views associated with both panoramas and Hudson River School painting. It’s almost as if the idea lay dormant in him until his Prouts Neck era. Of course, the Prouts Neck paintings don’t look anything like Church, either (though it’s interesting to point out that their surging waves have some resonance with maritime moving panoramas). Homer created something entirely new with his Prouts Neck paintings, and I don’t mean to diminish that by calling them 19th-century paintings. Still, it’s fascinating to learn more about how Homer himself “saw” the works and wanted others to see them. As modern as they may appear, Homer himself always intended these paintings to be seen in a way that has more to do with the 19th century’s tradition of panoramas and “great paintings”—an orchestrated, guided, transportive illusion—than the modernist’s reductive examination of paint on canvas.
I’ll leave it to the Homer scholars to dig through Homer’s correspondence to find out which panoramas, if any, he saw, and what he thought about them, particularly in relation to his own work. But thanks to Sunday’s presentation, the idea is there, someone’s just got to dress it up and put it on the road. We all agreed that not nearly enough has been written about Homer’s late seascapes; this could be an interesting idea for someone to start to unroll.
Thank you to all who participated in the Panoramas in Motion symposium September 21-22!
Just one week ago today, some 40 scholars from all over the United States gathered at the Saco Museum and Saco City Hall auditorium to kick off a weekend of events and presentations focused on the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress and the moving panorama tradition. It was all put into motion, if you will, with the fourth show-stopping panorama performance on City Hall’s stage. This, as you may know, is a full-size replica of the original, historic Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress, made by printing digital images on synthetic fabric sturdy enough to withstand the stresses of performance. So many “panoramaniacs” there last Friday had studied panoramas for decades but never before seen one in motion. What a thrill for them and for us to make that experience a reality! Thanks, as always, to pianist Jeff Rapsis making the performance a musical treat as well as a visual one, and for Terry Borton for providing the narration.
But THAT WASN’T ALL, folks! Next up was a dazzling Pilgrim’s Progress-themed magic lantern show by Terry Borton, a magic lantern historian and performer and a leader in the Magic Lantern Society of the US and Canada. What a treat to see these gloriously colorful, historic slides presented with 19th-century technology. To those of us who have worked with the panorama’s take on The Pilgrim’s Progress for so long, it was exciting to see the variation of visual interpretations that the slides provided, too. Borton’s narration, based on historic magic lantern scripts, was a variation as well—his impassioned presentation made our performance script seem almost staid by comparison!
The next morning the group gathered at City Hall once again for a day of fascinating presentations, many by prominent members of the International Panorama Council. First, Saco Museum trustee (and longstanding panoramaniac) Peter Morelli gave an overview of the Moving Panorama tradition. Then former Saco Museum Director (and more importantly, director of the recent project to preserve and interpret the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress) Jessica Skwire Routhier gave an overview of the project and the panorama, thanking all those who made the project and the symposium possible. Janeen Turk of the Saint Louis Art Museum spoke about their current project to conserve and display their Mississippi River panorama, and Russell Potter of Rhode Island College spoke about the showmen who took these moving panoramas on the road, focusing specifically on panoramas with Arctic themes. Independent scholar Suzanne Wray localized the moving panorama brilliantly by talking about the audiences for moving panorama performances, providing ample evidence that early workers in New England’s textile mills—like those in Saco and Biddeford—were among the primary audiences. And after a collegial lunch break, all those present were enthralled with art historian Kevin Avery’s lecture on the influence of Hudson River School luminaries Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church upon the design of the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress. The day’s sessions ended with Tom Hardiman’s fascinating re-telling of the story of how the panorama was rediscovered in the Saco Museum’s basement, and a question-and-answer session about the current project. Then Jessica Skwire Routhier led the group over to the exhibition of the original, 1851 panorama at the Pepperell Mill Campus and the Saco Museum, for questions and a re-telling in images of the timeless and universal story of The Pilgrim’s Progress.
What a pleasure to host so many fascinating speakers and enthusiastic participants. Thanks once again for being our guests in panoramaland.
A Double Bill This Friday…
The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress and a
Magic Lantern Show of Pilgrim’s Progress Together
You can see a full-scale replica 800 foot long replica of the Pilgrim’s Progress Panorama in motion, with music and a riveting narration, just as the original was meant to be seen at 6:30 pm, Friday, September 21, at Saco City Hall, 300 Main Street.
Also, for this perform ance only, there will be a magic lantern show of Pilgrim’s Progress. Magic-lantern shows–a combination of projected images, live narration and music–were another popular way that Pilgrim’s Progress was presented to the public in the 19th century. Terry Borton, the showman of The American Magic-Lantern Theater, will give what he thinks is the first public magic-lantern presentation of Pilgrim’s Progress in a hundred years, using original slides, some of which were created by America’s foremost slide artist, Joseph Boggs Beale. As a special treat, Borton will also be the performer for the panorama show.
Be there Friday when the Saco Museum presents the third 21st century performance of the Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress. A crew of volunteers will be rolling 42 beautiful images across the historic Saco City Hall stage. Performing with Terry Borton will be an extraordinary pianist, Jeff Rapsis.
For the first time the entire historic panorama–800 feet of vibrantly painted muslin canvas, in four sections–is on view in two downtown locations, the Saco Museum and the historic Pepperell Mills.
A full house of 200 loved the show on August 3, as well as the backstage tour of the mechanism. $5 is a suggested donation at the door. I hope you will consider joining us .
There is symposium on moving panoramas on Saturday. Check the museum web site for info.
A MOVING PANORAMA PERFORMANCE AND WEBCAST:
The Moving Panorama of Pilgrim’s Progress Performance,
Live on the Web, 5:30 PM EDT, Friday, August 31, 2012
You can see a full-scale replica of the Pilgrim’s Progress Panorama IN MOTION–and with music and a riveting narration–just as the original was meant to be seen, at Saco City Hall Auditorium, 5:30 p.m. Friday evening, August 31, as part of the monthly Art Walk.
If you can’t make it, you can join an international audience in a webcast of the historic performance. The confirmed audience will include panormaniacs in London, Haddam, CT., Sydney and Melbourne. You can join them by pointing your browser at that time to http://www.sacomaine.org/news/councilvideo.shtml
This is the third performance of 175 year old form of artistic entertainment presented by the Saco Museum. A crew of volunteers will be rolling 800 feet of beautiful images across the historic City Hall stage. Performing out front will be an extraordinary pianist, Jeff Rapsis, and on stage Professor Scott Marcoux, will relate the epic story.
As readers of this blog know, for the first time the entire historic panorama–800 feet of vibrantly painted muslin canvas, in four sections–is on view in two downtown locations, the Saco Museum and the historic Pepperell Mills. Live performances of a full-scale, modern photographic replica recreate the historic experience of seeing a moving panorama in action, and a new web-based film animation has introduced the panorama to a global audience.
A full house of 200 loved the show on August 3, as well as the backstage tour of the mechanism. Only one more show is scheduled after this one (on Sept. 21, when we will perform it in conjunction with our symposium). $5 is a suggested donation at the door. I hope you will consider joining us if you are nearby.
AGAIN, to view the webcast point your browser to: http://www.sacomaine.org/news/councilvideo.shtml
This does not seem to work with an Ipad, perhaps a Flash issue.
The show again is at 5:30 p.m New York time, on Friday, August 31.
That’s 10:30 p.m. in London, and 2:30 p.m. in Los Angeles.
The show last about one hour. The video production will be very basic.
-If you watch the performance, send an email during the performance to email@example.com, or a text to 207-712-7105 and we’ll read it to both audiences after the performance.
…and as clever and enjoyable as that pun is, it must be clarified: the “Wicket Gate” of The Pilgrim’s Progress has nothing to do with being wicked. In fact, quite the opposite. The Wicket Gate is the first official benchmark on Christian’s journey down the Narrow Path to the Celestial City. It’s the tollbooth to the King’s Highway–the road to all that (in John Bunyan’s theology) is good and true and right.
So what’s up with the weird name, you ask? Just think croquet–it refers to the shape of the gate, sort of an upside-down horseshoe, as you see here. Just like croquet balls have to go through wickets to win the game, Christian has to pass through this gate in order to reach his journey’s end.
We got a sense of the Wicket Gate’s importance in an earlier panorama scene, the Slough of Despond–you saw it glimmering through the darkness of the slough, the carrot at the end of the stick that keeps Christian motivated to get out the swamp’s other side, rather than turn back. The only reason he knows to head for it is that a fellow named Evangelist, whom Christian met on the very first steps of his journey, had pointed it out:
Then said Evangelist, pointing with his finger over a very wide field, Do you see yonder Wicket-gate? The Man said, No. Then said the other, Do you see yonder shining Light? He said, I think I do. Then said Evangelist, Keep that Light in your eye, and go up directly thereto: so shalt thou see the Gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.
In addition to the Slough of Despond, Christian faces other difficulties before reaching the Wicket Gate. He is led astray by a malefactor named Worldly Wise Man, who encourages him to stray from the path, and the only reason he makes it back to the straight and narrow is that Evangelist returns and comes to his rescue. So he makes it to the gate, which is the scene depicted here, but there are still a few hoops for him to jump through–as it were.
When Christian reaches the gate, he sees that written over it are the words “Knock, and it shall be opened unto thee,” actually a quote from the Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew. So Christian knocks, as instructed, and is welcomed by a “grave person … named Good-will.” Good-will readily opens the gate for him and invites him through; so readily, in fact, that as Christian steps forward, Good-will suddenly grabs him and roughly pulls him to the other side. Surprised and taken aback, Christian exclaims, “What means that?” (a quote we should all embrace and use as much as possible). Evangelist explains that the demon Beelzebub keeps a constant eye on the gate and likes to shoot arrows at those passing through; therefore, the general policy is to move people through the gate as quickly as possible and save the questions for afterward.
It’s not difficult to identify John Bunyan’s religious message for his readers: once someone has made the decision to commit to a Christian life, he or she should be welcomed without hesitation and protected from those who would try to shoot them down (literally or figuratively). And as with most events in The Pilgrim’s Progress, there are also universal, real-world applications. This is a major life decision that Christian makes, going through the Wicket Gate, a decision from which he can’t turn back. And like all life-altering choices, it isn’t arrived at easily or without fear or risk or pain. It’s seldom wise to make such a decision alone or without help or guidance, so in Christian’s case it’s a good thing that Good-will is there. Indeed, after Beelzebub has been evaded, Good-will sits Christian down for a real heart-to-heart, making sure he knows just what he’s gotten himself into and that he’s prepared to honor his commitment.
But for all that, in the panorama scene, we don’t see Good-will (though he does appear in Part II of the panorama, when Christian’s wife, Christiana, passes through the gate). Nor do we see Beelzebub and his arrows. This is a quiet scene, the moment when Christian approaches the gate and has a last-minute gut-check–will he knock and go through? Or will he turn back after all and stay with the status quo? Though any viewer of the panorama would have known Bunyan’s story and known what to expect, still, what they saw from their seats was a moment of potential, of suspense, even of indecision. Christian leans toward the gate in a longing gesture, but he has not yet come to its threshhold. Even though we know the outcome, we feel along with Christian the paralyzing hesitancy and responsibility of choice.