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.