New Bedford's Grand Panorama Opens To The Public

Jul 13, 2018

Would you like to see the longest painting in America? You can, starting Saturday July 14th at the Kilburn Mill in New Bedford. It's a massive artwork, 1,275 feet long, 170 years old and called "Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage 'Round the World".

Recreating a global whaling trip, it was painted in 1848 by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington. Designed as a "moving panorama", it traveled around the country in the mid-nineteenth century, scrolling on giant spools for theater audiences in the days before cinema.  

Credit New Bedford Whaling Museum

When the "moving panorama" era faded, the painting continued to be exhibited, but it required a huge space for a static display and eventually was seen less and less. Christina Connett, Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, said the last time the painting appeared in its complete form was more than fifty years ago:

"It was in the Sixties. It was shown in an old grocery store on Pope's Island in New Bedford," she said. "And since then it's been shown in parts, in the Whaling Museum, but never in its entirety."

The painting ended up in the possession of the Whaling Museum, but the enormous scrolls were cumbersome and took up so much storage space they were almost thrown away. Instead, said Connett, the idea was hatched to restore the painting, an endeavor that has taken more than twenty years to realize.

The current exhibit at the Kilburn Mill is being celebrated with a Family Day party on Saturday July 14th. According to Connett, scholars and experts on the panorama era are excited to see this panorama restored and displayed:

"We have gotten calls from all over the county," she said. "I've gotten calls from Holland, from people coming just to see the panorama."

The exhibit runs until October 8th.