New Bedford Whaling Museum experts explain the significance of America’s longest painting

A Spectacle in Motion Lectures: August 7, 14, 28

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – Experts will give a series of lectures in August about America’s longest painting, the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, which is featured in two New Bedford Whaling Museum exhibitions: “A Spectacle in Motion: The Original” and “A Spectacle in Motion: The Experience.” Chief Curator Christina Connett, Ph.D. will speak about panoramas as a popular form of entertainment in the 19th century on August 7 at the Whaling Museum. Michael P. Dyer, Curator of Maritime History, will look at the Grand Panorama through the industrial lens of whaling and maritime culture on August 14 at the Museum. On August 28, Akeia Benard, Ph.D., Curator of Social History, will show how the Panorama reveals New Bedford as a global cosmopolitan hub with connections to the rest of the world through the whaling industry. Dr. Bernard’s lecture takes place at the Kilburn Mill, 127 West Rodney French Blvd in New Bedford, site of “A Spectacle in Motion: The Original.” All lectures begin at 7 pm, preceded by receptions beginning at 6 pm. Cost to attend is $10 for Whaling Museum members and $15 for non-members. Series tickets cost $25 for members, $40 for non-members. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 508-997-0046.

In 2017, the Whaling Museum completed the conservation of the 1,275-foot-long Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, painted in 1848 by Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington. “A Spectacle in Motion: The Original” features the enormous painting in its entirety at the Kilburn Mill and runs through October 8, 2018. “A Spectacle in Motion: The Experience” presents a large-scale digital reproduction of the artwork as a theatrical moving picture show, similar to what audiences would have experienced in the 1850s. This exhibition opens July 29 and will run through 2021 at the Whaling Museum.

A Spectacle in Motion Lectures

Tuesday, August 7
A Spectacle in Motion: 19th Century Entertainment and The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World
At the New Bedford Whaling Museum
By Dr. Christina Connett, Chief Curator
Dr. Connett will place the Panorama in the larger context of the era’s visual culture. The Panorama is one of only a few surviving American moving panoramas, an enormously popular art and entertainment form that reached its peak in the mid-19th century.  In many ways, panoramas were cultural indicators of public interests that fed the massive popularity of 19th century World’s Fairs. Much like the extraordinary adventure writings of authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, panoramas brought the spectacle of the exotic and the unknown to eager audiences of armchair travelers in the Industrial Age. Audiences keen on the authentic experience, but without the means or desire to travel far afield, could be transported to another locale through the spectacle of the moving panorama.

Tuesday, August 14
Industry of Whaling and Maritime Culture of Mid-19th Century America
At the New Bedford Whaling Museum
By Michael P. Dyer, Curator of Maritime History
Michael P. Dyer will examine the Panorama through an industrial lens. Benjamin Russell probably conceived his idea for a traveling whaling panorama picture show sometime between 1841, when he shipped onboard a whaler, and 1847, around the time when he and Caleb Purrington actually began to paint it. The painting coincided with the height of American whaling, both economically, physically, and culturally. The impacts of the whaling enterprise were felt through many segments of American society and its profits later funded the fine and mechanical arts, and local industries as divergent as banking, machine tool manufacturing, and cotton spinning. The growth of the industry demanded an American diplomatic presence in many faraway lands, advancing the vanguard of American hegemony in the Pacific.

Tuesday, August 28
Globalization and Diversity of Maritime Industries from New Bedford
At Kilburn Mill, 127 West Rodney French Blvd, New Bedford
By Dr. Akeia Benard, Curator of Social History
Dr. Benard will show how the Panorama reveals New Bedford as a global cosmopolitan hub with connections to the rest of the world through the whaling industry. The painting illustrates the path of expanding hegemony of the United States through American commerce worldwide in remote and “exotic” ports and landfalls. Details of the ports – their geography, inhabitants, architecture, and maritime infrastructure – are vividly represented in the painting. In its very structure, the Panorama represents the connections between these far-flung locations and different cultures forged by the American enterprise of whaling and the global dominance of the American whaling industry.


About the New Bedford Whaling Museum
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the world's most comprehensive museum devoted to the global story of human interaction with whales through time, and the history and culture of the South Coast region. The cornerstone of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the Museum is located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill in the heart of the city's historic downtown. Museum hours: April through December, daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. January through March, Tuesday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Museum is open until 8 p.m. every second Thursday of the month. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.  Admission is: Free for Museum members and children aged three and under; adults $17, seniors (65+) $15, students (19+) $10, child and youth $7. For more information, visit


Media contact:
Tina Malott
Director of Marketing and Public Relations
New Bedford Whaling Museum

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visitors in front of Panorama at Kilburn Mill exhibition

Without actually witnessing it themselves, Purrington and Russell depicted the spectacular 1847 eruption of the volcano at Fogo, Cape Verde in the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World. Photo credit: Peter Pereira


visitors at Kilburn Mill exhibition

Visitors view the 1848 Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World in “A Spectacle in Motion: The Original” at Kilburn Mill in New Bedford. The painting is longer than the Empire State Building is tall. Photo credit: Peter Pereira