Caring for Gettysburg’s Largest Artifact

A view of the diorama from the catwalk high above.

A view of the diorama from the catwalk high above.

It’s checkup time for the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting.

Conservator David Olin at the top of the painting in the background.

Conservator David Olin at the top of the painting in the background.

Gettysburg National Military Park’s largest artifact requires special care and attention. To ensure that the painting remains in good condition, David L. Olin, an acclaimed painting conservator who led a five-year conservation project on the painting in 2003, visits on a regular basis to conduct a condition assessment.

The oil on canvas measures 377 feet in circumference at its widest point and 42 feet in height and weighs 12.5 tons. Since its installation at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center it has been the “must see” attraction in the facility.

 

Olin, left, speaking with GETT Superintendent Ed Clark and the supervisor of museum services, Greg Goodell.

Olin, left, speaking with GETT Superintendent Ed Clark and the supervisor of museum services, Greg Goodell.

Entitled “The Battle of Gettysburg,” it depicts a pivotal moment in America’s history: the charge of Confederate infantry popularly known as Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. One of only two cyclorama paintings in the U.S. and about 20 worldwide, the Gettysburg Cyclorama painting experience offers the only historically accurate venue in the country.

French master Paul Philippoteaux and a team of 20 artists painted it in 1883 and 1884. In 2003, after nearly a century of neglect and deterioration, a five-year

A visitor's view of the cannon in the painting's diorama.

A visitor’s view of the cannon in the painting’s diorama.

conservation effort returned the painting to its original glory. Directed by the Gettysburg Foundation, in partnership with Gettysburg National Military Park, the project included conservation of the painting, recreation of 12 feet of missing sky, and addition of a new three-dimensional diorama and canopy, which had been lost for more than a century. The project was completed by Olin Conservation, Inc., Great Falls, Va., and was the largest-ever painting conservation project ever undertaken in North America.

Artist Paul Philippoteaux painted himself into the scene calmly watching, with a sword across his knees.

Artist Paul Philippoteaux painted himself into the scene, watching calmly with a sword across his knees.

Visitors today marvel at the three-dimensional diorama which includes fences, rocks, grasses, flowers, and cannon. The diorama is the key to the illusion, giving viewers the feeling that they are standing in the middle of Pickett’s charge. Battle veterans were said to have wept when they viewed this stirring example of state-of-the-art entertainment in the 1880s.

Tickets for the film, Cyclorama painting, and museum, and for battlefield tours, can be purchased

The artistry of the painting still inspires visitors after 131 years.

The artistry of the painting still inspires visitors after 131 years.

online at http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org, which also offers more detail about the new Gettysburg experience.

Thanks to Jason Martz, Visual Information Specialist at Gettysburg National Military Park, for the photos and video used in this post.

Katie Lawhon, Management Assistant, 2/26/15

About The Staff

Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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2 Responses to Caring for Gettysburg’s Largest Artifact

  1. Al Mackey says:

    Reblogged this on Student of the American Civil War and commented:
    Here’s a nice post from our friends at the Gettysburg National Military Park covering the care of the Cyclorama painting. It gives some great behind-the-scenes information on one of my favorite attractions. If you haven’t seen the Cyclorama yet, you’re missing a real treat, especially in its location in the new Visitors Center.

  2. Katie,

    Nice post. Thank you for the update. Kudos to the GF and NPS for the regular ‘check ups’. I’m very glad to see that we are utilizing the Olin Team on an ongoing basis to ensure this national treasure remains beautiful long term. It was painful to see not only the painting deteriorate in its old location but the building deteriorating along with it. What’s the old saying? Inspect what you expect! Nice job to all involved.

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