Written by Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives, New Bedford Whaling Museum
The New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas. Panoramas were a popular art and entertainment form that reached their peak in the mid-19th century. In many ways, they were predecessors to the massive popularity of World Fairs in the latter half of the century, most notably those of Paris, London, Chicago, and New York. Much like the extraordinary adventure writings of authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, panoramas played to the spectacle of the exotic and the unknown to eager audiences.
Completed in 1848 the Grand Panorama was painted by sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) and Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), a self-trained entrepreneurial artist and whaleman. It is a grand and rare example of American panoramic folk art, created as a commercial traveling public spectacle.
Painted in water-based paint on cotton sheeting, the Grand Panorama is over 1,275 feet long and 8 feet high, separated onto four spools. Its journey begins in New Bedford harbor and travels the route typical of Yankee whalers in the mid-19th century, landing spectators in the Azores, Cabo Verde, Rio de Janeiro and numerous ports of the Pacific. At one time there was an additional section, but it was lost before the artifact came to the Whaling Museum 100 years ago. The Grand Panorama, as displayed on Digital Commonwealth, and on our dedicated website (https://arcg.is/1fv9mm), was “stitched” together from 240 separate photographs captured over the course of two years, after textile and paint conservation processes had been completed.
The best, totally unique item added to the Digital Commonwealth in March was the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s The grand panorama of a whaling voyage ‘round the world. The section above does not do it justice. The full panorama is divided into four sections. To get the full affect, you need to click on each section and then click on the image again to enlarge and use your cursor to travel the entire panorama. Believe me, the effort is worth it. It’s easy to understand why it was a popular exhibition when it toured the country from 1849-1851.
But, if whaling voyages aren’t your thing, there are more of those wonderful Medford Historical Society & Museum Civil War photos, pre-presidential photos of John F. Kennedy from the Rocco Paoletta Collection at the Boston Public Library, photos and maps from the Sharon Public Library and historical town records from the Wayland Town Clerk. As always, a little something for every taste.