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A Visit to Panoramaland

September 28, 2012

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.

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