- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Slowly but surely, a 123-year-old oil painting designed to place viewers in the middle of the climactic, ill-fated Confederate assault on Union Army troops during the Battle of Gettysburg is returning to its former glory in a new home.

A team of conservators has begun installing the 14 original sections that comprise French artist Paul D. Philippoteaux’s 360-degree canvas inside a museum and visitor center under construction at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The canvas has been cleaned and is being mended before each section is hoisted into place with a system of ropes and pulleys.

The final phase will include painting in a swath of sky that was trimmed from the original 1884 cycloramic painting — pieces of it had been used over the years to patch holes — and filling in damaged areas.

“To get it to this point is really a miracle,” said Maura Duffy, a senior conservator working on the project. “Most of the things I’ve worked on that are large … have been murals, and they’re attached to walls, so they’re stable. This is hanging on its own.”

The cyclorama restoration began in 2003 as part of a broader fundraising campaign to improve the national park, which attracts nearly 2 million tourists annually. The $103 million museum and visitor center is expected to open in April. The cyclorama, which accounts for $11 million of the cost, will be on public display next September.

It depicts Pickett’s Charge, the dramatic Union Army stand against the Confederate troops on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the final day of battle. Mr. Philippoteaux, aided by several assistants, based his work on hundreds of battlefield sketches he made, a series of panoramic photographs and interviews with battle veterans.

The cyclorama was first exhibited in Boston, then shipped to other cities and later cut into sections for display in a New Jersey department store. The National Park Service purchased the painting in 1942 and moved it to a new visitor center in 1962, but officials discovered the facility was far from ideal, park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said.

In the new facility, the painting will be displayed in its original hyperbolic shape, meaning the canvas will be stretched at the top and bottom to form a cylinder curved inward, creating a more three-dimensional effect.

In the process of removing grime and materials such as wax that were applied to strengthen the canvas, conservators discovered that previous repair efforts resulted in some embellishments, Miss Duffy said.

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