The Campaign to Save Richard Neutra's
Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg

Sign on to Save!


Our Mission
News & Documents
History & Photos
Conservation Considerations and Recommendations Regarding Exhibition of the Gettysburg Cyclorama Painting (released by National Park Service, November 1998)

"Following is a discussion of the major conservation issues concerning the present and future exhibition of the 1884 cyclorama painting of the Battle of Gettysburg by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux.

Exhibition History:

* This cyclorama painting was commissioned for exhibition in Boston in 1884. Following this exhibition, the cyclorama was dismantled and various sections were displayed in New Jersey, New York, Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
* In 1912, all sections were reunited and the painting displayed once more in the round in a specially built structure in Gettysburg that was open to the public in the summer months. The building was not designed for winter use and was unheated.
* The Gettysburg Cyclorama came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1947 and was installed in a new purpose-built exhibit building known as the Cyclorama Visitor Center in 1961 following a major conservation campaign by NPS Paintings Conservator Walter Nitkiewitz.

Conservation History:

* 1912-1913 Restorers Unknown

# Extensive restoration to make the fragmented, fire and water damaged painting exhibitable in cyclorama form. Losses occurred in the horizontal length (narrative passages) and in the vertical height (sky). Promotional literature of the time stated that the painting was 400 feet long and 50 feet high, although the exact dimensions must be extrapolated from physical, documentary and comparative evidence. Canvas was added to the significantly damaged bottom edge of the painting where the prop foreground had been. Holes and tears were mended. Significant overpainting was done to unify the pictorial sequence.

* 1948 Richard Panzoni

# In-situ restoration of damaged areas due to cumulative roof-leaks and unheated conditions. Attempt to alleviate gravitational stress by gluing canvas strips to the back and stapling the strips to a support frame. The treatment caused significant dimensional distortion resulting in serious puckering and radiating folds with subsequent serious damage to the paint layer.

* 1959-1961. Walter J. Nitkiewitz, NPS

# After facing and removal of the painting in sections, each section was flattened, sized and relined with canvas and wax resin. More sky area was removed further shortening the original vertical height. Because of the parabolic shape of the painting (narrower at the bottom than at the top), excess canvas at the bottom edge formed deep ruffles when hung from the new mounting support structure within the cyclorama viewing gallery, and excess canvas was attached to wooden slats on each side of the main canvas joins and pulled back in an attempt to created a more gradual distribution of the folds over a wider span.

* 1975-1976. Walter Nitkiewitz.

# Repair of cracks and voids caused by separation along major canvas joins. Noted that surface distortions were becoming more visible and repositioned support slats to better distribute excess material along the bottom circumference. Recommended a new lighting system to assist in optically flattening out the surface distortions. The bottom edge of the painting was taped to the floor to hold rearranged folds in place in 1976. Inadequacy of the climate control system to stabilize damaging fluctuations in relative humidity was noted. Even though the system was replaced in the mid-1970's, the design of the HVAC of three zones with separate supply ducts but with return ducts directing air back to a single fan mixing all conditioned air, made it impossible to provide strict humidity control for the circular exhibit portion of the building alone.

* 1984-1989. Tom Carter, NPS.

# On-site conservation undertaken to stabilize flaking areas resulting from dimensional changes due to erratic RH% and aging of the wax resin lining. In the wake of increasing conservation concern, a new AC unit was installed on the roof in the mid- 1980's to alleviate problems noted in the mid-1970's. However, the steam duct- mounted humidification system that has never worked properly, and the reheat capacity of the A/C was not sufficient to control high RH.

Present and continued deterioration of the painting is ascribable to the following:

* Improper mounting technique that does not permit the painting to assume its natural parabolic shape. Pronounced dimensional distortion has resulted in cleavage, tenting, flaking and loss of the paint layer.
* Previous relining with wax /resin in the 1959-1961 conservation campaign. Wax / resin compounds are unstable over time and lose a&esive strength. Loss of adhesion of the lining canvas had been noted as early as 1975 (Nitkiewitz), in 1982 (Carter), in 1995 (Wim Myers)and most recently by Perry Huston and Tom Ferguson in 1998. This problem is exacerbated by the improper hanging technique.
* Exposure to extremes and wide fluctuations of Relative Humidity that have been and continue to be unmitigated by past and present climate control systems.


Future preservation of this painting depends on conservation treatment followed by reinstallation using an appropriate mounting technique.


* Reinstallation cannot be done without complete conservation, which includes removal of the 1959-61 wax/resin lining.
* Development of a mounting technique that would allow for the natural parabolic shape of the painting while adequately supporting the weight and fragility of the canvas is absolutely necessary if the painting is to survive with integrity. If the canvas is unable to support weight, mounting the panels on rigid support panels is a possibility as suggested by both Tom Ferguson and Perry Huston in 1998.
* Serious consideration should be given to approximating the original height of the parabolic cyclorama to recapture historical accuracy and the artist's intentional scheme for establishing viewing and lighting angles. Perry Huston suggests installing a wall covered with canvas matching the canvas weight and color of the existing sky above the mounted painting to reproduce the powerful artistic effect of the original expanse of sky.
* A climate control system that is demonstrably able to maintain appropriate and consistent conditions of temperature and relative humidity within the Cyclorama viewing theatre is necessary for continued preservation. Currently, conditions can rise as high as 80% RH.


* The size the present cylindrical Cyclorama exhibit area is too small to accommodate the painting when returned to its original parabolic shape. The circumference will be too large to accommodate the expanse of the painting plus a mounting support system as well as permit access to the back of the installed painting and permit adequate insulating space between the mounted painting an [sic] exterior wall.
* The high number of visitors combined with the traffic flow pattern makes the maintenance of a stable climate within the viewing area fairly impossible with the current HVAC system and flow configuration.


* Relocate the Cyclorama to a new purpose-built structure that is large enough to accommodate its full dimension after conservation.
* Planning for the new building should be done concurrently and with full reference to conservation to ensure that the full space requirement for the final installation is addressed in the design stages.
* Design dedicated climate control system for the exhibit zone that is capable of maintaining a stable climate in an area of high visitation.
* Use the present Cyclorama Visitor Center as the conservation facility for treatment and remounting of the painting. A large area is required for treatment and remounting. The present building could be adapted to this purpose and allow the NPS to monitor progress efficiently. This will also permit ready exchange between designers and conservators, which is essential to successful planning and completion of a new building in which to display the Cyclorama

Report submitted by: Brigid Sullivan
Chief Conservator, Collections Conservation Branch
Northeast Regional Conservation Center
November 24, 1998"

Our Mission
News & Documents
History & Photos

This site composed and administered by Christine Madrid French 2004.