In the Grant Park neighborhood in southeast Atlanta stands an auditorium that, for more than a century, has housed the massive oil painting Battle of Atlanta. Of late, the venue has become a construction site.
Piles of rubble mount and scaffolding extends high into the air — surrounding the large, cylindrical oil painting also known as the Atlanta Cyclorama. The panorama, which is longer than a football field, depicts scenes of Confederate and Union soldiers from the 1864 fall of Atlanta during the American Civil War.
On Thursday, following months of preparation, art and engineering will meet head-on when the painting starts its trip to a new home. The move is being partially overseen by Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center.
"It's really not a part of the normal art conservation that you see, because this has primarily been an engineering challenge up to this point," Jones says.
The project has meant rolling up the towering, 130-year-old painting onto two 45-foot-tall scrolls, each weighing about six tons. It won't be easy.
"Both scrolls will be lifted by crane through two holes in the roof, then once outside of the building, they will be laid down flat onto flatbed trucks, and then we do the same thing to put them back into the new building," Jones explains.
That new building is at the Atlanta History Center. The nonprofit struck a deal with the city, which owns the painting, to restore and display it for the next 75 years.
Jones says it's a good move: Atlanta sheds the costs of upkeep, and the center can add historical context to a painting that long has been a symbol of Confederate heritage.
Sara Velas, president of the International Panorama Council, says panoramas once were popular entertainment — think 19th century IMAX movies. Battle of Atlanta is one of just three panoramas created in that period — along with The Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa., and The Panorama of Jerusalem in Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec — that are still on display in North America.
"They did sort of fall out of favor once film was invented — so that's a huge reason why people don't really know about them so much anymore," Velas says.
She hopes efforts to restore of the Battle of Atlanta might start to change that. The history center plans to have the painting back on display next year.