Tag Archives: Featured

Prehistory and Paleolithic Pop Culture

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.42.09 AM
Image Source: IMDB.com

Turns out Hugh Hudson has a new film out that focuses on the discovery of the prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira. If you aren’t familiar with the discovery, the Cliff Notes version is an 8 year old girl named Maria led her father Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola to a cave which held amazing paleolithic paintings of bison among other wonders; scientific debates ensue.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.41.08 AM
Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

The end of the 19th century was rife with debates on man’s place in nature as well as the entire story of mankind in general. The established French view was that prehistoric humans were incapable of such higher forms of thought required to create such things. Arguments about the past and the professional nature of the scientists and divided disciples were heated, marked, and many times personal. Paleoanthropology and other disciplines as we know them were in their infancies fetal stages and battle for the authority to pontificate on humanity’s past was as much the prize as finding answers to the questions they were asking.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.41.48 AM
Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

Having done a fair amount of research on the Piltdown Affair and its context within the debates that came to a head because of find like Altamira, I am especially intrigued. Adding to that is the fact that like so many other important discoveries in this period it was made by an amateur. That is to say it was reported by an amateur since it was originally discovered by a child.

800px-Altamira-1880
Drawing of Altamira cave originally from grotte d’Altamira, Espagne. Relevé du plafond aux polychromes publié par M. Sanz de Sautuola en 1880 (d’après Cartailhac, 1902) hosted on Wikimedia Commons

The movie itself looks wonderful since it will have the debates and forces of will involved (including the Church). It also included the wonder that fills Maria as the bison from the cave come alive in her dreams and become a part of her.

Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira
Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira

As with most things in life I didn’t get to this from any direct route. I actually first heard of this film through a trailer for its soundtrack. As bizarre as soundtrack trailers sound the bits and pieces around it are where I can glean more of the story.

Mark Knopfler and Evelyn Glennie worked together to create the score for the film and it sounds incredible. It was on Mark’s official Facebook page that I first say the trailer to the soundtrack. Complete with the reimagined stylized version of the famous bison on the front.

The bison form Altamira are iconic and you may recognize them from the plethora of Bisonte cigarette ads/packs that are everywhere. (I say everywhere, that may only be the case if you are as interested in Spain as I am).  If not everywhere then at least on cigarettespedia.com which is a more useful website than you may think, especially for someone who studies visual culture.

Bisonte Cigarrettes, From Cigarretespedia.com
Bisonte Cigarrettes, From Cigarrettespedia.com

Getting to the heart of the film is difficult since all the available trailers are in Spanish since it was released there at the first of this month (April 2016). This isn’t because the film is in Spanish, but because of locality (I guess). So the trailers are dubbed into Spanish which just strikes me as odd, even if I am appreciative of the fact that was produced in English.

There are a few English clips that are part of the making of the soundtrack video below where I grabbed some of the above photos. As far as the cave itself goes, it remains closed to visitors since the damage it sustained from visitor’s breathing in the 1960s. The museum close by has a full replica included some sculptures of human faces that you couldn’t get to in the cave itself.  There are also reproductions in Madrid, Germany, and most recently Japan.  The Caves were up for reopening to the public a few years ago, but in an effort to preserve the site the decision was made to keep them closed. looking at a fake trope was still contentious in 2014.

The Cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and they have a short video on it as well. Until it gets wider release this will have to suffice to piece together what is going on.

 

Update: Aug. 3, 2016 Full length English trailer finally hits youtube.

 

Glyptodos and Glyptodonts*

*Thanks and/or blame for this goes to Tom Luczycki

Hey look! A paleo entry on an supposedly paleontologically themed page! How novel.

I will start with this great coincidence from 2007 when the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s journal (JVP) was released not only on my birthday, but with one of my favorite extinct creatures on the cover:

IMG_2237
JVP Vol. 27, no. 4. Author’s Copy

And since it is one of my favorites, the past few days’ worth of paleo news circulating in the popular press and among friends and colleagues on twitter has been a delight.

Yes, well. If you haven’t heard/read by now, they have played around with some glyptodont DNA (how cool is this?) and determined what any school kid will tell you: They are related to the stately armadillo. Actually related to “armadillos and their allies” so the end is nigh for the Ice Age Axis Powers.

Standoff
Screen grab from BBC’s Ice Age Giants episode 1: Land of the Sabre-tooth

Since the original press release, I have posted several different versions over on the PaleoPorch Facebook Page. Enough to constitute putting them together on here so you can be annoyed all at once instead of incremental scrolls on your timeline.

p018t3cd
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3cd

I mentioned that any school kid will tell you they are related to armadillos. I mean this in the same manner that all school kids will tell you that South America and Africa fit together–it is just obvious. Right?

871fb8a99af2e10e1feda0c76405b1f0
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3fp

BBC.Ice.Age.Giants.1of3.Land.of.the.Sabre-Tooth.720p.HDTV.x264.AAC.MVGroup.org[09-20-28]
Look at that shell, pretty dillo like, even upside down. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3cd
Since science doesn’t like to live in the obvious it sometimes takes studies like the one linked above to provide a backing for something that seems self evident. I mean, it *could* be a case of convergent evolution like sharks and dolphins.

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On display at AMNH © AMNH/ D. Finnin Recent source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/amon-meg022216.php

This might also prove that they didn’t have “trunks.”  I never really bought into this argument and it is probably my own fault of thinking about an armadillo with an elephantine proportioned proboscis, which isn’t technically what proponents of the elongated schnoz are/were pitching.  Bit, DNA can’t give us shapes of soft tissue unless it is fully cloned and 100% and viable and… Welcome to Ice Age Park. (A dinosaurid aside: at one point, and I am not sure where in print, Bob Bakker was theorizing that the brachissaurus’ nostril on its head made it akin to an elephant, but Darren Naish (@Tetzoo) put that to rest way back in 2009.)

Now that there is scientific proof that Glyptodonts are related to armadillos, that means the allies range from the pink fairy armadillo, which is about the size of a toilet paper tube, to the Volkswagen beetle behemoths we’ve all come to know and love.

glyptodont_Image_1
Clean Burning Diesel, or something. Source: http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/scientists-map-genome-of-giant-shelled-mammal-known-as-the-glyptodont/

Besides, I am from Texas, and we love our armadillos, especially when they are Texas-sized. Especially when it means that the beer can be scaled up equally.

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Source: lives, relatively speaking, on pinterest, found through image search, original domain from tineye was a dead link)

We has one of these when I was a kid. It was plush stuffed and not taxidermy stuffed and lived, so to speak, on top of our kitchen cabinets, I thought it was the neatest thing. Full disclosure: Shiner is a better beer.

I was also less than thrilled with the short shrift they got in the Ice Age cartoons too, but that is another story.

Glyptodon_design
Source: http://iceage.wikia.com/wiki/File:Glyptodon_design.jpg
Stu
How undignified Stu, Source: http://iceage.wikia.com/wiki/Glyptodon

 

A relatively recent documentary on Ice Age Giants captures some great fossil footage of in situ and museum specimens down in Arizona. Ice Age Giants was hosted by Professor Alice Roberts (@DrAliceRoberts) and it definitely worth a watch. (part of an older post here). Here is the first episode and the Glyptodonts show up around the 22:20 mark, just after the Shasta Ground Sloths and the Grand Canyon segment.


BBC.Ice.Age.Giants.1of3.Land.of.the.Sabre… by singaporegeek

As an ending thought, the next time you are out for Mexican food or Tex-Mex, take the opportunity to order yourself a nauseous armadillo (that is a queasy dillo (quesadilla))

 

It All Started With a Tweet

Actually it was the reply to a tweet. The one below in fact. Suddenly, going through twitter in the morning before getting out of bed changed the trajectory of the entire summer and, in all honesty, may have helped my reconnect with a very long forgotten piece of myself. I’ve used the analogy before, but in this case I very much feel like Columbus who has discovered something that thousands of people already knew about. The Ghostbusters cartoon, that is The Real Ghostbusters, had a comic.

Nessie is a ghost
Nessie is a ghost
No, really.
No, really.

So it goes, that April 19th began a tireless internet search for any format of any of these comics I could find. I lived for the ghostbusters cartoon when I was a kid. I saw the series before the movie and was always a bit bummed that Egon did not look the same in the movie. If I ever had a television hero or role model as such, it was Egon. Cartoon Egon. I can’t tell you how hard I tried to get my hair to roll like that. Incidentally it was the late 80s and early 90s and I did have the rat-tail too.

Personal collection of animation cells
Personal collection of animation cells

Not a single person I knew was into comic books when I was a kid. To be fair I grew up mostly around adults, but still I don’t remember classmates bringing any to school or whatever. The first one I bought was an Uncanny X-men that was in the magazine section of the grocery store (Brookshire Brothers is its name), because I had been watching the animated series on Fox Kids on Saturday mornings.

I kept up with the story arc until at some point in Jr. High school, I was made to get rid of my collection of two large Nocona boot boxes full of comics, by this time X-men, Ninja Turtles, and Wolverine because they were “a fire hazard.” I gave them to the one person I knew had comics and as far as I know he still has them all to this day.

When I tried to get back into them later when I had my own place that I wasn’t concerned with pyromaniac comics burning down, I found that the single story lines I had followed had been split into seemingly limitless different arcs and I absolutely hated it. I didn’t pick up a comic again until this year.

The original run, drawn and written true to the cartoon are a thing of beauty. Not far into the run, there is Egon pointing out the debates on the warm-bloodedness of dinosaurs. That was neat enough, but when I got to the issue that had the reference to Symmes Hollow Earth theory I was hook. I am a historian of science (specifically earth and field sciences, geology, paleontology, and archaeology) so it was fascinating to see  that obscure reference in a comic from 1988 aimed at kids. I now have an enlargement of that panel on my office wall.

Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
Discussing the finer details about dinosaurian blood temperature
The Hollow Earth Theory
The Hollow Earth Theory

In addition for finally rounding up all the original US comics and digitizing them, I lucked on to a fellow from the UK selling the first 100+ of the UK Mag comics. I have about 15 of them digitized, but they are coming along. That aside, something interesting started showing up in the google searches for Ghostbusters comics–(and here we have the second voyage of Columbus) there were new ones.

They were new, but they weren’t new. They are brilliant. They are absolutely everything that a fan could possibly want in a 21st century rendition of the franchise. I hate to admit just how long it took me to get used to the newly drawn characters specifically because I love all the artwork and the artist Dan Schoening (@Dapperpomade) is such a great guy and a must follow on Twitter if not for interaction then for his sneak peak/previews (including some really neat post-it art).

That is the "Rookie" from the video game.
That is the “Rookie” from the video game. (all images are copyright of IDW Publishing and are used here to highlight and review the work where they are originally located. no infringement is intended and they are used for educational purposes (secondary to praise))
The Twinkie
The Twinkie

There could be a full manual written on just the easter eggs and sly references to other incarnations of the Ghostbusters that he includes in the series. When I started reading the series (that is now more than a couple years old) the appearance of Belushi as Ray’s Dreamworld Virgil pretty much squashed any doubts I had about where this was going. The writing, masterfully executed by Erik Burnham (@Erikburnham) brings everything together in a way that make every single issue enjoyable every single time you read one.

It's the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel...
and I feel…

What I think I love the most amongst all this stuff that many of you have been enjoying for years is the fact that it does the very opposite of the thing that turned me away from comics all those years ago. Instead of splitting stories into backstories and alternate universes and riding relative dimensions to some weird end, the IDW publishing series is tying in everything. That is everything. The cartoons–yes, plural, even that weird one made for teens is represented, the movies, the video games, it is all coming together and that, for me, is a nice bit of Ray Stantz cosmological symmetry.

So much goodness
So much goodness

They, along with Tom Waltz (@TomWaltz) produced the crossover to rule them all: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ghostbusters. (I don’t want to leave the colorist Luis Antonio Delgado out either, the stuff pops on the page and looks amazing on a retina display iPad, Luis doesn’t have a twitter that I am aware). God, how I wish this would have been done when I was a kid, because the very UN-esque agreement that my mother made me submit to in order to get Ninja Turtle toys was to make room for them by getting rid of my ghostbusters toys. That this even exists is a tribute to humanity’s greatness. I am telling you, t is golden record in space worthy.

Even when interests mesh, it isn't a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Even when interests mesh, it isn’t a perfect 1:1 and that makes it perfect
Mikey asks the important questions
Mikey asks the important questions

Every page has comes with something like this. Which, of course, has led to backtracking to Tom Waltz recent runs with Ninja Turtles proper and it doesn’t disappoint either, but that is a thought for another time.

Currently they are running a 4 part Ghostbusters Get Real, wherein the cartoon ghobstbusters have crossed over into the new/real/comic universe.  Never before have I wanted to hit up a Comic Con and get anything signed before, but this series has me looking at future locations.

Get Real #'s 1 & 2
Get Real #’s 1 & 2

The third one is out in a couple weeks and will feature Egon on the cover, so I am more than a little excited for that. The story is running true to all forms too. The best news comes that they are also working on a Ghostbusters Annual for the end of this year and a full new series (this will be Vol. 3) for 2016 along with a full published Tobin’s Spirit guide. There is really much, much more to say about just how wonderful all of this is and most especially for me as it recaptures a lot of what I was before life really got in the way. It also doesn’t hurt that I am finding it as I am working on my PhD research. A quick read through of one or two issues is a welcome break and recharge from digitizing thousands of WPA letters and funding, locality, worker records, and bureaucratic paperwork. I will, with all sincerity but these guys in my acknowledgements when the dissertation is finished.

Karl Bodmer: Exacting Expeditionary Artist

When I looked back through my posts to study for my midterm exam, I realized that I had neglected a post on Karl Bodmer and his patron Prince Maximilian. I intend to remedy that here, and give a few examples of how exacting and detailed Bodmer’s work was. If you appreciate it for no other reason, you should at least respect its authenticity.

Karl Bodmer (February 11, 1809-October 30, 1893) in 1877
A lifetime after his expedition with Prince Max 

Bodmer’s story really begins with Prince Max. A German aristocrat (his grandfather was a ruling count), he soon fell under the mentorship of Alexander von Humboldt. Following his mentor’s trailblazing adventurous style Prince Max led a scientific expedition through Brazil from 1815-1817. When Max begin his work in Brazil, Bodmer was back in Zurich at the tender age of 6.

Prince Max returned to the Western Hemisphere in 1832 where he organized a two year expedition in the Great Plains along the Missouri River. This time the young Bodmer was the official artist for the expedition and his works would accompany the official report of the expedition written by Prince Max in 1840. Prince Max’s journals have been published in their entirety–three enormous volumes–and you should definitely get your hands on them, whether borrowed or bought, they are an absolute thrill to read.

Prince Max (September 23, 1782-February 3, 1867)

Below are a a few samples of Bodmer’s work. You can see the attention to detail especially in the collections of artifacts that he reproduced in two dimensions. Even more so when he painstakingly recreates the native artwork that was part of the skin, bowl, or quiver.

Offering of the Mandan Indians  
Buffalo Dance of the Mandan

Magic Pile of the Assiniboin Indians 

Mouth of the Fox River from Travels in America 

Horse Racing of the Sioux

Noapeh, Assiniboin Indian

Sih-Chida and Mahchsi-Karehde, Mandan Indians

“Road Maker” Minatarre Chief

Mato-Tope Mandan Chief 

Mato-Tope print

Pehriska-Ruhpa. “A Minatarre of big-bellied Indian”

Collection of artifacts collected during the expedition

Pehriska-Ruhpa, Minnatarre Warrior in the Costume of the Dog Dance

The Dog Dance is probably one of the most recognized or famous of Bodmer’s collection. It is stunning. There is a fantastic collection of Bodmer’s work that was an accompanying text for a Bodmer exhibit at the Nordamerika Native Museum Zurich back in Fall 2008. It is called Karl Bodmer A Swiss Artist in America 1809-1893. That is another one you will want to at least interlibrary loan if you get a chance, because the used copies on Amazon are $500 and the new one is listed for $1893.58.

If you would like to see some Bodmer works in the flesh the largest of three known collections of Bodmer’s work lives at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska of all places. They also have the original Maximilian Journals that “are a centerpiece of the Joslyn collection, accompanied by his collection of over 350 watercolors and drawings by Karl Bodmer.hey alYou can see more written about the Maximilian Collection by clicking here and scrolling about halfway down. 

Maximilian Journal Image Source

Interesting evening addendum: You find some interesting things wen you look for stuff to put into a blog post. I stumbled across this documentary created back in 2010 called Bodmer’s Journey. I have not watched it so I can’t speak to its quality. It is hosted through vimeo here for a $2.99 year long rental, or you can purchase it for $20 through Amazon. Here is the trailer: 
There is also a chap that gives a presentation as though he is Bodmer himself. I have seen one of these before about John Audubon, and this one is not bad, especially for it to be filmed in shorts. 


Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley

The year is 1851, you make your way through the streets of Philadelphia to a small theatre where scores of other interested parties are milling around waiting to be allowed in. You deposit your 25 cents for admission (12.5 cents for any children you have in tow) and make your way inside. The din of attendees drown out any discernible conversation as everyone finds their place before the show starts. For weeks printed advertisements have been calling this something you did not want to miss. Not only will they be displaying a full moving of the Mississippi River but it will be accompanied by the eminent Dr. Dickerson’s lectures which were “by themselves worth twice the price of admission.”

Advertisement for Dickeson’s Scientific Lectures. Source.
The good professor (and medical doctor, no less) records his own opening of over 1,000 Indian mounds and boasts a collection of over 40,000 relics recovered from his excavations. Center stage of the theatre (sometimes special built to display such panoramas) sits an enormous muslin painting nearly 8 feet tall and nearly 14 feet long. The full length of this particular panorama is 348 feet and will be wound through as Dickeson lectures literally moving down, or up the river. The panorama is so large that instead of “rewinding” the show after every performance the matinee show would feature a trip down the “Father of Rivers” and the evening show would work in reverse going upstream.
John J. Egan; Marietta Ancient Fortification; A Grand View of Their Walls, Bastions, Ramparts, Fossa, With the Relics Therein Found, scene one from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

The lights dim and the spotlight hits the panorama and you begin your trip down the Mississippi River led by Dr. Dickeson whose stories, both scientific and anecdotal, would be accompanied by music and in some instances smoke effects to get a more authentic feel of a steam powered paddlewheel boat. These were not only the precursor to movies, but to those 4D experience rides that some museums have today. The images are not only impressive for their size, but the vividness of color and superb detail.

Scene 1 Detail 
The scenes seamlessly pass as Dickeson narrates the journey highlighting the Indians, their villages, customs, accouterments, etc.
John J. Egan; Circleville Aboriginal Tumuli; Cado Chiefs in Full Costume; Youths at Their War Practice, scene two the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 2 Detail 

 

Scene 2 Detail 
John J. Egan; Hanging or Hieroglyphical Rock; Colossal Bust at Low Water Mark, Used as a Metre by the Aborigines, scene three from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 3 Detail
John J. Egan; Portsmouth Aboriginal Group in a Storm, scene four from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 4 Detail
John J. Egan; Cave in the Rock, Stalagmitic Chamber and Crystal Fountain, Desiccated and Mummied Bodies in Their Burial Places; Magnificent Effect of Crystallization, scene five from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail

 

Scene 5 Detail
 John J. Egan; Terraced Mound in a Snow Storm, at Sunset, scene six from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
John J. Egan; Twelve Gated Labyrinth, Missouri; Indians at Their Piscatory Exploits, scene seven from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

 John J. Egan; Bon Hom Island Group; Distant View of the Rocky Mountains; Encamping Grounds of Lewis and Clark, scene eight from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:195
John J. Egan; Louisiana Swale Group, with Extensive Wall; Lakes and Sacrificial Monuments, scene nine from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
 
John J. Egan; Natchez Hill by Moonlight; Indian Encampment; Distant View of Louisiana; Indians Preparing Supper, scene ten from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 10 detail 
If you will notice, now the skies have started to darken. Slow, dark, and deep music begins to play ominously and suddenly a storm is crashing upon the audience with all the appropriate theatrics as the next scene rolls with the destruction wrought as a tornado touches down.
 John J. Egan; The Tornado of 1844; Destruction of Indian Settlements; Horrid Loss of Life, scene eleven from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Wind and rain subside but the dangers of living around the river are no less under friendlier skies. This is where I image great melodramatic music a-la Dudley Do-Right begins to play as this man flees for his life from wild animals, in this case wolves.

 

John J. Egan; Louisiana Squatter Pursued by Wolves; Humorous Scene, scene twelve from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Does the squatter make it to the safety of his cabin? Only Dickeson’s notes say for sure.
John J. Egan; Prairie with Buffalo, Elk, and Gigantic Bust on the Ledge of a Limestone Rock; Spring Creek, Texas, scene thirteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 13 Detail 

 

Scene 13 Detail 

 

Scene 13 Detail 
ohn J. Egan; Fort Rosalie; Extermination of the French in 1729; Grand Battle Scene; Mode of Scalping, scene fourteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

This is one of the only hard breaks between scenes. Which may have been done on purpose to show the hard line between warfare and more peaceful, pastoral, and placid parts of the trip.

 John J. Egan; Chamberlain’s Gigantic Mounds and Walls; Natchez above the Hill, scene fifteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

John J. Egan; Indians at Their Games, scene sixteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

John J. Egan; Baluxie Shell, Mounds, scene seventeen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
ohn J. Egan; Ferguson Group; The Landing of Gen. Jackson, scene eighteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

Scene 18 is the only that is currently on display with the Navigating the West: George Caleb Bingham and the River exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Scene 18 Detail 

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail

 

Scene 18 Detail
The Magnolia churns up the river as passengers take in all the surrounding natural wonder. This ship would have been well known to Dickeson’s audience as the one that chugged the eminent geologist Charles Lyell along the Mississippi river. Snags, cypress knees, swamps, and decidedly large alligators line the banks and the river bottom, while the going is good, this isn’t an effortless river cruise along the Rhine, or Seine.
John J. Egan; Lake Concordia and Aboriginal Tumuli, scene nineteen from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 19 Detail 

 

Scene 19 Detail
The following scenes are my personal favorites as they begin to detail Dickerson’s actual excavations of the Indian mounds along the river.
John J. Egan; Huge Mound and the Manner of Opening Them, scene twenty from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail

 

Scene 20 Detail
Scene 20 Detail
The stratigraphy in these mounds is portrayed brilliantly. The panorama was painted by John J. Egan, an Ireland-born American artist specifically commissioned by Dickeson to paint his lectures based on his sketches from the field which he produced between 1837 and 1844. With that in mind, I believe that Egan has put Dickeson here sketching the mound as slaves (I assume) do the actual excavations.
 John J. Egan; Cado Parish Monument, scene twenty-one from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953
ohn J. Egan; De Soto’s Burial at White Cliffs, scene twenty-two from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 22 Detail

 

Scene 22 Detail
Now, I knew about Dickeson’s panorama, and I even know that there was many ethnological and archeological aspects to it. I didn’t realize they were this detailed and I was surprised further still as I watched the digital scenes scroll passed on the monitor next to the display. Scene 23 caught me fully unaware and had a full jaw dropping moment.
John J. Egan; Mammoth Ravine; Exhuming of Fossil Bones, scene twenty-three from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

There were fossils! Enormous bones being excavated from the sides of a ravine running along the Mississippi River. Not only were they isolated bits and pieces, but giant skeletons, nearly complete. Rendered so well by Egan that they are obviously giant sloths. This image also ties Jefferson’s (incorrect) original description of the claws of this type of animal and the beautiful painting by Charles Wilson Peale Excavating the Mastodon. The details are breathtaking.

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail

 

Scene 23 Detail
John J. Egan; Temple of the Sun by Sunset, scene twenty-four from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 24 Detail

 

Scene 24 Detail 
Scene 24 is the last with full landscapes on it. A pensive Indian looking over the mound, and based on mound for scale, what is affectionately known in professional circles as “a big damn snake.” It is interesting to note here that this Indian nearly reflects, or at least faces those that started us off on his journey.

 

Whether this is just coincidence, or whether Egan, or Dickerson for that matter, are framing 300 feet of muslin cotton might be debatable, but it does show the vast variety of native life and ethnography that spans the river.
You can almost see this one saying “The End” of “Fin” 
John J. Egan; Blank Scene, scene twenty-five from the Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley, c.1850; distemper on cotton muslin; Saint Louis Art Museum, Eliza McMillan Trust 34:1953

 

Scene 25 Detail

 

Scene 25 Detail
Now, you have come to the end of your river travel and heard the thrilling tales of adventures running the river, exploring caves filled with rock art, and excavating Indian burial mounds collecting along with the doctor various and sundry artifacts. This was just one of many of these types of education and entertainment that was touring during the 1850s. It is the LAST one that exists that tours the Mississippi River. It lives at the St. Louis Art Museum which is where they host these images here. As I mentioned before it is on display at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Ft. Worth until January 18, 2015. The Navigating the West exhibit then moves on to St. Louis and from their to New York and the MET. The Amon Carter had to build a special contraption to display this as the device that St. Louis has was too heavy to stay on the second floor exhibit in Ft. Worth. They aren’t sure it will go to the MET as they don’t want to deal with the logistics. Luckily this is painted on muslin and only weighs around 220lbs (100 kilos) according to one source I looked at. Here is a short time-lapse of the installation at the Amon Carter:

 

There is a great interview regarding the conservation work on this panorama here. Other than being labeled rather vulgarly a “steampunk movie” it is worth a read if to just get a sense of scale of the painting images such as these:

 

 

If you are more interested in the particulars of the artwork itself and not just the images portrayed on it, there is some of the history of rediscovery and first conservation work on the glue based paint and other particulars here.
The St. Louis Art Museum also offers a pdf of the panorama image sheets that you can access here in case you want to look at them in a manner other than blog form. We’ve looked at a lot of individual scenes as they would have been rolled, unrolled, and rolled again. But, you have to remember that this is one image that is nearly 350 feet long. I have no idea what that would look like stretched out, or where you would even exhibit it, but SLAM has shot them a few scenes at a time to get a rough feel.

 

 

 

 

Dickeson gave his panorama and artifacts to the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in 1899. Some of the artifacts that were in that collection are most likely portrayed in one or more of the scenes of his panorama, which may be at least part of a research trip over there. The St. Louis Art Museum purchased the panorama from the university museum in 1953, but it did not go on display until just a few years ago.
This is by far, one of the most unique pieces of Americana that exists in the world. It reveals much more than just the scenery along the Mississippi River Valley, it is a consummate artifact that embodies the history of art, the history of science, and American history. If it does nothing else (and it does so very much) it serves to remind us that the mid 19th century was a much more dynamic and interesting time than we are likely to give it credit. After all, it was filled with such oddities as the traveling moving panorama lecture which could take you on a Mississippi River cruise anywhere that the work could be displayed.
If you would like more heady readings on this panorama, and others,here are some good places to start:
Luarca-Shoaf, Nanette. “Excavating a Nineteenth-Century Mass Medium,” American Art, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer 2013) pp. 15-20
Luarca-Shoaf, Nanette. The Mississippi River in Antebellum Visual Culture. PhD. Dissertation University of Delaware, 2012. Specifically Chapter 4 “Currents of Time on the Lower Mississippi: M.W. Dickeson and Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley” pp. 170-239.
Lyons, Lisa. “Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley,” Design Quarterly, No. 101/102, The River: Images of the Mississippi (197) pp. 32-34
Update 10.23.14 New Video from the Amon Carter on the Panorama itself:

 

The Artist and the Sportsman

If you are ever presented with a painting featuring some buckskin clad fur trappers in one or more familiar romantic composition, serve up a guess that it was painted by Alfred Jacob Miller and you will be correct more often than not. In fact, Miller was the only painter of his generation to paint the fur trade, so if you know that the painting in question was created in the early 19th century, you would be right 99.99% of the time.

roasting the buffalo hump rib

Bourgeois and his squaw

Quintessential and typical composite of the mountain man/trapper
The real fun (at least for me) comes with Miller’s artist renderings of the hunting and traveling experiences of his patron William Drummond Stewart. The 2nd born to scottich nobility came west to lead the adventurers life and kill everything that moved. He had met Prince Max and Karl Bodmer some years before and may have gotten the idea of hiring an artist accompanist from Max’s scientific expedition. Bodmer was there to document the science of Prince Max’s expedition while Miller was on hand to document the sport of Stewart’s and the last of the largest gathering of traders in the United States. Stewart had friends all over the continent and entertained many, including high ranking Native Americans in a large striped tent complete with Persian rugs. 
William Drummond Stewart, Scottish Nobility, sportsman, and Miller’s patron

Antione Clement, hunter, guide, scout, etc for the Stewart expedition
Miller painted a few versions of this story. 
Shaman said they could fight the whiteman but not strike the first blow, Stewart held his cool and his men and avoided war. He did move enough to shake his stir the flap o n his coat.