Gettysburg Painting Getting New Home

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Slowly, but surely, a 123-year-old oil painting 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.
   
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People on a tour view installation progress of the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007. A team of conservators has begun installing 14 sections that comprise French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux’s circular canvas depicting Pickett’s Charge inside a new museum and visitors’ center under construction on the grounds of Gettysburg National Military Park. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    The canvas has been cleaned and is being mended before each section is hoisted into place with a system of ropes and pulleys. The conservators work 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.”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.”
   
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A viewing platform, the large circular table-like construction to the right, from whiich visitors will view the Gettysburg Cyclorama, is under construction in Gettysburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007. A team of conservators has begun installing 14 sections that comprise French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux’s circular canvas depicting Pickett’s Charge inside a new museum and visitors’ center under construction on the grounds of Gettysburg National Military Park. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    The cyclorama restoration began 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.
   
    It 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. The cyclorama 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, park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said. “There was a big flat roof that we could not stop from leaking,” Lawhon 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 the canvas will be stretched at the top and bottom to form a cylinder curved inward, creating a more three-dimensional effect.
   
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Conservator Weislan Kowalczyk stitches section of the original canvas of the Gettysburg Cyclorama in Gettysburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007. A team of conservators has begun installing 14 sections that comprise French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux’s circular canvas depicting Pickett’s Charge inside a new museum and visitors’ center under construction on the grounds of Gettysburg National Military Park. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

    In the process of removing grime and materials such as wax that were applied to strengthen the canvas, conservators discovered that previous repair efforts resulted in some embellishments, Duffy said. One area 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. It even survived 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.”

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