Atlanta Opens A Confederate Cyclorama Exhibit

Confederate Cyclorama ExhibitDetails of 'Battle Of Atlanta'. Image from Atlanta History Center

Atlanta History Center has unveiled today Cyclorama: The Big Picture that featured the fully restored panoramic oil painting, The Battle of Atlanta. The cyclorama depicts one of the significant turning point in the civil war, the 1864 Battle of Atlanta. It is a 360-degree cyclorama that stands 49 feet tall, stretching longer than a football field and weighing 10,000 pounds. It is one of the world’s largest oil painting.

Multimedia storytelling enhances the visitor experience in the show. It includes a 12-minute, larger-than-life presentation projected onto the painting. It is now housed in the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building at the Atlanta History Center, a newly erected, custom-built 25,000-square-foot space. The Battle of Atlanta is one of the only two cycloramas in the United States. The other one is The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama. This makes the Atlanta History Center home to one of America’s most significant historical treasures.

Cycloramas were 1800’s version of IMAX and one of the most effective tool in providing viewers with immersive storytelling. The new exhibit was opened to give visitors an experience that was created in 1866 and was never experienced by anyone for 100 years.

Restoration highlights include:

  • Re-creation of three missing sections, adding 2,908 square feet to the painting to return it to its original size of 14,952 square feet
  • Erection of a 15-foot stationary platform upon which visitors can view the composition at eye-level
  • Re-creation of a 120-foot, custom-made diorama landscape, including 128 original restored diorama figures from 1936
  • Corrected hyperbolic shape through re-tensioning, conveying the originally intended 3D effect

The painting was created by the American Panorama Company in Milwaukee by 17 German artists in 1866, 22 years after the Battle of Atlanta took place.

With this new exhibit, the Atlanta History Center aims to encourage unique and varying viewpoints about the painting and channel them into a more in-depth conversation.

In an era where Confederate symbolism is being removed from public places around the country, the Cyclorama itself has come under criticism during its 127-year history. Some see it as a symbol of Atlanta rising from the ashes after it was burned during the war, but it’s also been interpreted as yet another glorification of the “lost cause” of the Confederacy, which saw Southern states secede from America to maintain slavery.

“History is messy. And it has a lot to teach us – if we let it,” AHC President and CEO Sheffield Hale said. “Facts are facts, but the way we view the past varies widely. Visitors to the Cyclorama exhibit will be encouraged to think critically about how art, entertainment, and popular culture influence their interpretations of history.”

One of the most debated iconographies are the ones from the Confederate regime in the USA. Statues of Confederate leaders are put up in different monuments in the country, and although the intention of these statues is to honor the ‘heroes’ of confederate USA, for black people who have been enslaved by these men for generation, these statue serve as a reminder of their unfortunate past and a display of racial dominance amongst the whites.

In 2011, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board unanimously voted against the proposal of the Confederate battle flag onto the license plates. This is the second time the plate with the Confederate flag design has been brought to the TxDMV Board for voting. The Confederate flag remains as a symbol of hate and slavery.

Guests enter the painting rotunda through a 7-foot-tall tunnel – passing underneath the diorama – before ascending an escalator to the 15-foot-tall stationary viewing platform. Here visitors immediately experience a full 360-degree view of the painting, enhanced by technology and a 12-minute theatrical, larger-than-life presentation projected onto the painting. Visitors will also have a chance to see the newly-restored Texas locomotive, famous for its participation in the “Great Locomotive Chase” during the war.

The conservation of the cyclorama was funded by a seeding fund of $10 million from Atlantans Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker. The Atlanta History Center raised $35.78 million for the project, including $10 million for an endowment that will ensure the ongoing care of The Battle of Atlanta painting and related objects, including the locomotive Texas, during the 75-year license agreement with the City of Atlanta.

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