Giant painting of Atlanta battle scene is moving to new site

ATLANTA (AP) — A colossal panoramic painting depicting the Battle of Atlanta from the American Civil War will be lifted by cranes from the building where it has been housed for nearly a century and then trucked to its new location.

Moving the 6-ton Cyclorama — one of the nation's largest paintings — from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center across town marks a major milestone in its restoration, historians said.

The move is expected to begin Thursday and take two days. Those in charge say they're using extreme caution to ensure the 15,000-square-foot painting is not damaged.

"If there's anything that endangers the painting, we will slow down to a crawl," said Howard Pousner, a spokesman at the Atlanta History Center.

The painting's vivid scenes of charging soldiers, rearing horses, battle flags and broken bodies stretch the length of a football field, from the back of one end zone to the other one, when it is fully unfurled and on display.

In preparation for its big move, it has been cut at a seam into two pieces. Both pieces already are rolled onto gigantic, custom-built steel spools, each of them taller than a four-story building.

Holes have been cut in the concrete roof of the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum in Grant Park, near Zoo Atlanta. Cranes will be used to lift these spools of painted history through the roof, and then onto waiting trucks for the trip north to a brand new building under construction at the Atlanta History Center, Pousner said.

The artwork, created by the American Panorama Co. in Milwaukee in the 1880s, is one of only two such panoramas on display in the nation. The other one is at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Before the golden age of movies, the panoramas that offered a 360-degree view of battles and other historic events and "are sometimes described as the 3-D IMAX movies of their time," the history center said in announcing this week's move.

The popularity of visiting the panoramas made their creation a lucrative business for a time, and several German immigrants were hired by the American Panorama Co. to paint the panoramas at the Milwaukee company.

Now, a 140-year-old diary written by one of the main painters is providing new insights about how they visited Atlanta to make sketches for the Cyclorama, and then returned to Milwaukee in a somewhat frantic effort to complete the work on time.

"His diaries are essentially the only first-hand accounts of any of the painters who worked in Milwaukee at the time," said Kevin Abing, an archivist at the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

A German translator is working to decipher the diary written by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine.

In summaries provided to The Associated Press, Heine describes working to complete the Atlanta artwork on time, despite a painful battle with "frozen toes." He also recounts how a 25-foot scaffold was built over railroad tracks to create sketches for the Cyclorama, and how one painter was afraid to climb it.

The diary entries also show that the painters did not always get along. Heine complained about one painter on his crew being late, and how the Austrians "chatter more than they are working." At a "bear feast," one of the painters became drunk and angry at Heine "and entire Amerika."

Atlanta architects, engineers and others have been working with German, Swiss and American conservators to prepare for the move and restoration of the painting. It will go on display again next year in a new 23,000-square-foot building on the grounds of the Atlanta History Center, officials said.

The new building will include a viewing platform that rises 12 feet from the gallery floor, giving viewers "the sense of being enveloped by the 360-degree experience," history center officials said.
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