Restored Gettysburg Cyclorama arriving in new home
Visitors gain a sneak preview of the Gettysburg Cyclorama in the new visitor’s center in Gettysburg, the circular canvas that has attracted millions of viewers over the decades.
The Electric Map might be slated for storage, but Gettysburg’s other top touristy icon is slated to return to public viewing in 12 months.
Paul D. Philippoteaux’s Cyclorama depicting Pickett’s charge undergoing restoration, and the first of 14 sections is being installed in its new home – the new visitor’s center near the battlefield.
An Associated Press report on the project follows:
Conservators stitch the back of the famous Gettysburg canvas.
Slowly but surely, a 123-year-old oil painting that is designed to place viewers in the middle of the climactic, ill-fated Confederate assault on Union Army troops during the Battle of Gettysburg is returning to its former glory in a new home.
A team of conservators has begun installing the 14 original sections that comprise French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux’s 360-degree canvas inside a museum and visitor center under construction at Gettysburg National Military Park.
The canvas has been cleaned and is now being mended before each section is hoisted into place with a system of ropes and pulleys. The conservators work intently atop a temporary platform in the gallery, kneeling on rubber mats and leaving their shoes off to protect the material.
The final phase will include painting in a swath of sky that was trimmed from the original 1884 cycloramic painting – pieces of it had been used over the years to patch holes – and filling in damaged areas with new paint.
“To get it to this point is really a miracle,” said Maura Duffy, a senior conservator working on the project. “Most of the things I’ve worked on that are large … have been murals, and they’re attached to walls, so they’re stable. This is hanging on its own.”
The cyclorama restoration was begun in 2003 as part of a broader fundraising campaign to improve the national park, which attracts nearly 2 million tourists annually. The $103 million museum and visitor center is expected to open in April. The cyclorama, which accounts for $11 million of the cost, will be on public display next September.
Park officials want to provide visitors a better orientation to the battlefield and its history and make it more engaging for modern audiences, said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon. Taking better care of the cyclorama painting is among the goals of the new museum, Lawhon said.
The cyclorama depicts Pickett’s Charge, the dramatic Union Army stand against the Confederate troops on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the final day of battle. Philippoteaux, aided by several assistants, based his work on hundreds of battlefield sketches he made, a series of panoramic photographs, and interviews with battle veterans.
It was first exhibited in Boston, then shipped to other cities and later cut into sections for display in a New Jersey department store. The National Park Service purchased the painting in 1942 and moved it to a new visitor center in 1962, but officials discovered the facility was far from ideal, Lawhon said.
“There was a big flat roof that we could not stop from leaking,” she said. “The painting also was not properly hung – it was stretched at the top, but allowed to hang loose at the bottom, like a shower curtain.”
In the new facility, the painting will be displayed in its original hyperbolic shape, meaning that the canvas will be stretched at the top and bottom to form a cylinder curved inward, creating a more three-dimensional effect.
In the process of removing grime and materials such as wax that were later applied to strengthen the canvas, conservators discovered that previous repair efforts resulted in some embellishments, Duffy said. One area of the image that originally showed a young boy holding one end of a stretcher was painted over to depict him carrying buckets instead, and a tree was added to cover one damaged area, she said.
“The tree’s not supposed to be there, so we took that off,” Duffy said.
David L. Olin, the project’s lead conservator, said the original painting has held up remarkably well, considering its age and the punishment it has taken over the years – even surviving two storage-shed fires.
“It’s deteriorated, but given what it’s been through, I’ve seen a whole lot worse,” Olin said. “I like to think about the fact that we have gotten to the painting in time to avoid the inevitable.”