As part of our series One Square Mile: New Bedford, we look at the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World”, painted by New Bedford artists Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington.
New Bedford's Benjamin Russell was a commercial artist and businessman, who had also signed on to a whaling voyage and experienced firsthand the travels that he would depict in the "Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World." Russel hired Caleb Purrington, a local sign painter, to help him with the creation of the panorama. They completed it in 1848. It measured 1275 feet by 8 feet.
"We think it’s the longest painting in North America," said Christina Connett, the Chief Curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. "I believe it’s one of the longest ever made. And it’s certainly one of the longest moving panoramas I know about now, extant."
The moving panorama was a form of entertainment enjoying wide popularity just then, in the mid-1800’s. New Bedford's "Grand Panorama" filled four giant rollers, or spools. The painting was fed horizontally from spool to spool in front of a stationary audience, accompanied by music and narration and even some special effects. "Sometimes dramatic lighting from behind for lightning storms or whatever it was you wanted to see," said Connett.