There is so much stuff I need to catch up on. I need to write about getting a full time position, how my dissertation work is shaping up, and how I finally wrapped up the Shead stuff. But, a collected set of commercials came across my social media feed the other day and that pretty much has set everything else in the back seat.
The following stop-motion (I still call it clay-mation) #PaleoPopCulture brilliance is brought to you by Nissan Cup O’ Noodle. Kim Blanchette animated a series of these commercials in 1992 .
Blanchette’s CV is impressive, and has worked on just about everything recent in 3D animation from Toy Story to The PJ’s to Robot Chicken. It was these cavemen v. nature ads that gained him international acclaim according to the bio on Mandy.com Where they “won numerous awards and considered the Cinderella story at the 1992 Cannes International Advertising Festival where it won the Grand Prix Award.”
And now a word from our sponsor: all these ads follow the same format, but what is so great about the Tom and Jerry-esque takes is that the prehistoric beasts involved are beautifully rendered. Starting simple, with a mammoth.
There were technically four mammoth commercials, the last two (at least in the order I saw them) being the same animation for the “Curry” flavored noodles.
and a little extra for the “Spicy Curry”
Another common ice age animal is the sabre-toothed tiger, it gets two spots.
The first clip of this series I ever saw was the one with the Megatherium. I was already thinking about a PaleoAd post before I found this treasure trove of 90s animation.
The Moa makes an appearance:
Then, as the fount of paleo animation began to runneth over, I started seeing creatures that I worked on from the Eocene. The Brontothere (you’ll see this on youtube as a “Giant Warthog”)
and not to be outdone a Uintathere! This one is a top favorite of mine since my Paleontology studies started in the Uinta Basin in Utah.
This next one surprised the heck out of me. You almost never see this one get reconstructions. They show up in some paleoart, but I haven’t seen a mount of one yet. I think the strongest image I have of the syndyoceras antelope is from my copy of Zoobooks which, who knows, maybe that is where Kim saw it too. (You’ll find this one on Youtube as “saiga antelope.”
I am putting this one at the bottom, not just because it isn’t a mammal, but because it is part of that “we know it didn’t happen but it’s part of the trope” situation that is humans living with dinosaurs. I always think of Gary Larson’s intro to the collected Far Side where he says you almost feel like you should confess in the vein of “forgive me Father for I have sinned, I have drawn humans and dinosaurs together” (paraphrased). That being said, it is still a great animation.
There are a couple of honorable mentions. Specifically to the theme of this post, not because they are in any way sub par animations. The Seafood flavorings of Cup-O-Noodles had some aquatic problems for the local, hungry heroes.
If you would rather watch most of these at once, you can see them all linked here:
I had never seen any of these commercials before and was only made aware of them when the Stan Winston School of Character Arts posted a video of them to advertise their stop-motion animation courses.
For me, History is filled with people and things. I have never really indulged in the movements and theories and isms that seem to infect the past presently. For a historian this is a professional character defect, for me it is what brings history alive and allows us to find our connections to it. It is likely why I spent so much time learning archaeology and paleontology. I believe it is ultimately what lead me to the history of science so I could talk about all of that at once.
When I first came to OU and was getting settled across campus with the few people I had some connection with I was shown around the Sam Noble Natural History Museum. On the second floor back in the hallway to the VP lab and collections there are these two enormous paintings (13.5 feet long by 3.5 feet high). After taking in the scale and content of these behemoths I immediately looked for the signature. “Ralph B. Shead ’42” and “Ralph B. Shead ’34 (or 39 it is obscured by the frame I believe it is 34).
Who was this artist? What else had he done, and why was he doing these things at this scale? This was years before I started the digitization and scanning project and information was slow in coming. I wouldn’t even find a photo of him for 2 years. When I started scanning and updating an internal manuscript on the history of the museum I gleaned a little more information.
You can see how hard it is to piece this stuff together. Langston missed Shead’s retirement by a few years which is understandable because Langston was working at the National Museum of Canada from 1954-62. Shead stayed at the Museum until 1960 or 61 and he wan’t simply the museum artist. In addition to his museum technician and painting work he served as the Oklahoma sate superintendent for the WPA during the 30s (when the bulk of his work was completed). The WPA records and receipts over in our Western History Collection indicate that some paint and supplies were purchased as part of the “Fossil Bones” project making at least the two paintings upstairs technically WPA art. Through some interesting turn of events another giant (13-footer) painting now resides down at the Texas A&M Biodiversity Heritage prep lab. The irony behind this is that its subject matter is Norman’s native (Permian) son–the Cotylorhynchus.
The Cotylorhynchus painting falls under the WPA years as well and was complete with the aid of a plaster or clay model he created.
Shead also created other plaster models for reference, and I believe he was the one who fashioned/oversaw the plaster for the Procamelus (now Aepyicamelus) skeletal reconstruction that accompanied the skull until it disintegrated.
The bulk of Shead’s work predates the formation of the WPA by a year. They were the “missing” and then “rehomed” paints from the previous two posts. They are also impressive in scale and scope as well, and add three more paleontology paintings to Shead’s portfolio. Ralph’s great-nephew told me that the marine reptiles mural wasn’t one of Ralph’s. Conrad said he was certain that it was a signed just as the Mammoth was, of course the place where his signature would have been was unfortunately damaged when it was removed from the wall. It doesn’t look quite like other works by Shea, and was painted on sheetrock and not canvass like Shed’s other works, but he did paint most everything that was in the museum. If anyone out there has a photo of this with the signature intact please send it along.
The moving of these paintings led to some renewed interest in some old emails and leads that were passed to me for follow up. Chasing down contacts I was able to locate the final “missing” mural that I was aware of living peacefully over in the Geology Graduate offices in Sarkey’s. It is another of Shead’s giants too, this one of a Carboniferous landscape painted in 1938 (during the WPA funded period)
There were also some Shead paintings reportedly hanging out in the microbiology department so I went in search for them. There were three, two in an classroom/lab and one in the herbarium office. These were as surprising as the marine reptile mural because I had never seen mention or reference of them. I photographed them to add to my ever-growin Shead dossier. When I was processing the images later that evening I noticed that there were no signatures on the microscope or fungi ones, but I assumed they had been covered by the frame (looking back now I don’t think that is the case, I just need to look harder).
The other one was even more surprising because while it is a Shead painting, it wan’t painted by Ralph.
I had no idea there *was* a Robert Shead and that added a whole new layer to the simple project of documenting Ralph B. Shead’s work. I found even less on Robert Shead (1908-1999) than his older brother Ralph. Robert had a son who ended up working at an internationally acclaimed interior design firm in Dallas. That son’s, (David LaForge Shead) obituary outlined his work followed in his parents’ footsteps studying art and design at OU. I haven’t been able to track down Robert’s years at OU yet. William Shead confirmed all this and added that Robert had a lucrative interior design company in Oklahoma City. He even served as a designer during his war service years, boasting that he has designed the interior of MacArthur’s private plane. He also confirmed that the fungi and the microscope were Robert Shead paintings and not Ralph’s.
Ralph however received his certificate of art in 1916, 14 years before Stovall arrived at the university, and became *the* name associated with all things museum and paleontology related. David Levy’s The University of Oklahoma: A History, Volume II 1917-1950 only mentions Shead in a single sentence: “Ralph Shead, a professional artist who became a long time employee of the museum, designed displays and created historic murals.” (214). At least two of which include a Jurassic scene and the background for the oreodon exhibit. Not only did Shead paint the background but he did the figure sculpting for the diorama as well.
Pretty short-shrift for someone who produced four 13+ foot paintings, three slightly smaller ones, and served as acting director of the museum between 1952 and 54 (Stovall died in 1953) after the “new” Museum was opened in 1951.
The paleontology paintings aren’t even the largest scale that Shead worked with while painting at OU. There is an enormous geological map of Oklahoma painted with various labor scenes around it that I will be spending some time with next week photographing more completely and attempting to do some digital repairs on it.
Shead wasn’t bound to the art studio during his tenure at the museum. As WPA superintendent part of his work included accompanying the visitors and press to sites worked under WPA funding. Here here is during the “This Project Pays your Community” public tour week in the Cimarron County Dinosaur Quarry.
Similarly, Shead’s fieldwork was not simply administrative. There were times when Shead as a “museum technician” was involved in the dirt of the excavation, and like his paintings he worked with dinosaurs and extinct mammals.
Later in 1941 Shead published a 7 page informational booklet on the Bear Zuni Fetishes from the Spiro Mounds archaeological excavations. Spiro was another scientific University WPA project. OU Anthropology students Shawn Lambert and Lucius Martin presented a poster highlighting the OU WPA artists and their illustrations for the Spiro project and publications. Interestingly this poster hangs in the same paleontology hall as the first two Shead paintings that I saw.
While I was working on this collection of Shead work, I contacted his great nephew William who not only lives in Norman, but lives at the original Shead address. The original house burned in the 1930s and the current house is a gorgeous faux adobe Mexican colonial partially designed by Ralph with the interior designed by Robert. It is definitely my favorite house in Norman.
I spent the afternoon surrounded by even more of Ralph’s art in his old house catching up on the Shead family history which is as fascinating as I had figured and in a surreal way similar to threads of my mother’s side of my family. Just to add all the smaller pieces of Shead’s work here to what is part of the University it is obvious that Shead painted all the time. Some of these landscapes are from the areas in the panhandle area which William said Shead really liked. I am going to make it a habit of visiting more often and next time I will have my big camera, but for now, having all of Ralph’s extant work together, even if it is just digitally. is a pretty fulfilling feat. There is at least one more that was given to a family psychologist friend. Either set of these would be an impressive portfolio, when lumped together is simply staggering.
Most are normal “house-art” sized (16×20 or so) except the Mexican scene, it is at least 48×60. I want to try and get some better photos of at least that one for a print.
I don’t know much more about the artist that was born in New Madrid, Missouri in 1892; What was he up to between 1916 and 1933 when he started painting for Stovall and the museum? Shead’s WWI draft card lists him as a school teacher in Jenks in June of 1917. William said he thought Shead was pursuing a master’s degree in art in Indiana before the family called him home to help during the depression. A few newspapers have him exhibiting art at the Herron Art Museum and the Indiana State Fair. He is mentioned as living in Indianapolis with his brother Walter (newspaper reporter) in the reports of Laurance’s death in 1933. An article in the Inianapolis Star (January 8, 1935) lists Shead as having attended Washington University in St. Louis, MO, the Grand Central School of art, and the School of Design in New York. It mentions his OU museum murals and a potrait of Bishop Francis Kelly of the Catholic diocese of Tulsa and Oklahoma City which all seem to have been completed in 1934.
His plans to return to Indianapolis in 1935 changed when he became the WPA Oklahoma state superintendent that same year. When the WPA folded, Shead became the assistant director of the University Museum, serving as “acting director” from 1952 to 1954 when the Hungarian-born archaeologist Stephan Francis Borhegyi took over the museum directorship.
According to William Eugene Hollon’s A History of the Stovall Museum of Science and History (1956), during the late 1940s through the early years of the 1950s Shead was the only full-time museum employee. He serve as assistant director and head of exhibit preparation at the renamed Stovall Museum until he retired in 1960. He continued to paint the rest of his life finally laying down his brush in 1969.
Shead is buried next to his parents and brother (not Robert) in the the St. Joseph’s Catholic section of the Norman IOOF cemetery on Porter St. in Norman, less than 50 yards from J. Willis Stovall and his wife. There is an American Legion medallion next to his headstone. There were even a story tied to the headstone.
The large Shead stone was created by Shead’s father James. He was skilled with concrete and decorative planters and birdbaths are part of the front garden at the house.
The family stories are not without tragedy either. The brother Laurance that is buried here was a fairly successful theatre manager at the Garden Theatre in Paterson, New Jersey who was known to help anyone down on there luck. One such patron, a prospective singer from Georgia named Louis Kenneth Neu took advantage of his kindness, accompanied Laurance to his apartment for a party, and eventually hit him from behind with an iron and stole his wallet. Laurance died of his injuries and Ney was later apprehended and executed in New Orleans for the murder of Laurence Shead and a wealthy Tennessee businessman.
Their mother Mary is, so far, the longest-lived Shead, and her story ties the family to one of the most significant geological stories in North America. Her Father’s Grandfather, a LaForge survived the New Madrid Earthquake only to catch pneumonia from wading through the slush that was once his farmland when the Mississippi River flooded. He later succumbed to his illness ultimately making him another victim of the quake.
His surviving work is impressive by any standard, and that isn’t taking into account all the already (really) lost “displays” and “historic murals” that served as backdrops for all the dioramas throughout the museum. His work isn’t simply art or background, paleontology or archaeology. His work crisscrossed all aspects of the museum, its collections, and ever expanding subject areas (which I think is why I have been drawn to finding out more about him). They also remain some of the strongest physical links to the history of the university museum outside of the collection artifacts themselves.
Some time back (2 years!) I began a project at our natural history museum to scan, digitize, archive, collect all of the images and negatives that were in our Vertebrate Paleontology collection. Thousands of images later a couple things really stand out: The importance of the WPA in the growth of out collections (see WPAleontology) and a couple of large paintings had disappeared since the late 30s and early 40s.
Ralph Shead was the painter and more than one link in the WPA paperwork trail throughout his tenure at the museum. There are two of his enormous murals hanging upstairs on the Paleo floor (off public display). You may recognize the layout of the one, he copied the styles of some of the more famous Peabody productions. I particularly like the IguanoFonz.
Working through all of the old photographs of the old museum on campus I began to see bits other artwork captured in the background such as the bottom of this mammoth mural just above the Procamelus reconstruction. This was the bottom of the painting, I had seen the corner of in the photo at the top.
A quick aside: everything but the skull here was plaster and disintegrated during a move, the skull is currently on display in the museum and it is now Aepyicamelus)
Back to the murals. Armed with bits of the scene like the one above I started trying to track down where it could be. From the available scale clues, this one is about 4×6 feet, but that is just a guess. One of the photos appears to show it as a canvas, and no where is is shown frames like the others, so it could have been rolled up and forgotten I suppose. I have had no luck tracking it down, but I did manage to find better photos of the entire thing.
While I was trying to track down the mammoth mural I found copies of two more murals that are also MIA. They appear to be the same size as the two extant murals in the Paleo hallway and if that is the case they are somewhere in the vicinity of 4×12 feet. They also show the same wooden frames on them.
Our vert paleo curator said that he thought the Carboniferous Forest one had been sent to one of the Texas Panhandle colleges years ago (before he got there). I contacted the collections managers at Texas Tech and the Panhandle Plains museum, but neither knew anything about them.
The final one is my favorite and the one I am most sad we don’t have. I would love to see it in the real in full color glory. There isn’t even a full good quality photo of the entire thing. Just the bad xerox copy, and some details. I don’t know the date on the mammoths or the carboniferous forest but in the detail of the Pliocene horses you can see a 3, so it was done in the 30s. The two extant ones were completed in 34 and 41 (the frame obscures the final digit in the dates, but this is what they appear to be), so it is likely they were all produced around the same time. The WPA receipts in the Western History Collection show paints and supplies so these are in fact WPA murals.
This is one of those times I really wish my readership was large enough to get hundreds of eyes looking for these. There may not be a living soul that knows anything about them, but there may be someone who has seen them and doesn’t know how they got there. They both appear to have been hanging somewhere above a wainscot, possibly in what was the first or second iteration of the museum. I hold out hope that they are still somewhere, and I suppose summer is the best time to go Scooby Doo-ing around the old buildings to try and find them.
They exist, and the one I am going to tell you about here is positively amazing on both counts.
If you have been following along with my arc into the madness that is doctoral work you will remember me being greatly aided in sanity by getting back into comic books. Like all things I have tried to absorb everything that is going on in the world thereof and have started following many comic book artist and writers on twitter (Fun fact: many of them are super interactive on social media). They share rants and works in progress (WIP), sketches, updates, previews, and a host of other things.
Twitter is how I found out about the Science comics series. I can’t remember who retweeted some of the art from it (I tried finding it, but my twitter feed is almost as bad as my Facebook overload) and I started tracking it down.
I am trained in paleontology (Eocene, not dinosaurs specifically) and have since moved into the History of Science to study the history of field explorations centered around paleontological madness. I do this on several public fronts which means I get a lot if dinosaur stuff sent my way. I try to keep up with the news and share it through the Paleo Porch Facebook page as well.
I also run a traveling museum of sorts filled with replica dinosaur claws, mammoth teeth, scale skulls, etc. so I am constantly looking for ways to share this stuff with others. This is one of the first reasons I fell in I’ve with :01 First Second’s Dinosaurs Fossils and Feathers.
Then, it got even better. For anyone with more than a passing interesting in the people that shaped what we have come to know as geology there are recognizable names: Smith, Buckland, Mantell, Owen, Cope, Marsh, etc. that form the mental Mount Rushmore of early Paleontology. Or at the very least the most famous (or infamous) accounts in the Bone Wars. They are all here, and they are all described and drawn beautifully.
Following the standards was great and it was looking good enough to suggest to some close colleagues as well, I was just waiting to see if the author (MK Reed) was going to fall prey to the age old Owen complex problem. I cannot tell you how delighted I was (and am) to say that she absolutely did not. In fact Reed blasts Owen for the self-absorbed force of will that he was. If I had to pick a single panel in this entire graphic novel to sum up how accurate the history of science is it would be this one:
because in reality Richard Owen was a butthead of the first order.
The writing is superb and clever and Joe Flood‘s art flows with it unimaginably well. Dinosaurs Fossils and Feather is filled with not only science but that science’s history as well, and not just the well known history either. Of course the double page spreads of Mary Anning in the Field, of the Crystal Palace, and Roy Chapman Andrews are all prints I wish I had in my office but they include an enormous swath of paleontologist rarely discussed outside hard science circles. Seriously, how many of you know the story about the Transylvanian paleobiologist Franz Nopcsa? Really, see? There you go, he is in this book, in comic form, which hides his tragic ending, but highlights his contributions to geology.
Alfred Wegener is here too! They could have chosen to talk about how he was mostly correct eventually and now we know how brilliant he was, but there is another personal favorite panel of mine included that shows why he was dismissed.
Really, how could a meteorologist (scientific, not TV forecaster by the way) dare think about the continents. Incidentally there is a much anticipated (by me and more than a few other historians of earth science) book about Wegener that is out this year too called Alfred Wegner: Science, Exploration and the Theory of Continental Drift that will be as close to a complete look at Wegener as we will likely ever see.
Get this book. Get it for yourself, get it for your kids, get it for your friends’ kids. The writing is brilliant, the art is stunning, the science is excellent, and the history is fantastic (not just for graphic novel standards but for history standards). If only it were at all possible to have full biographies of each of their included players done in this same tone and style.
I have highlighted only a few great things about this little book. There are many, many more. If I must be hard pressed to find something to complain about, or to point out as a shortcoming, I should choose to saw that I wish this book was a larger format so the pages and art would be larger.
I will end with a final snapshot merely because I have portraits of E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh hanging in my study at home which would benefit from these more stately bone crests.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 title, borrowed from Katherine Rogers’ book, is a segue into a bit of rewritten familial ahistory on my part. The Sternberg family began collecting fossils with Edward Drinker Cope, and led to a family of vertebrate paleontologists. A son found the famous “fish within a fish” fossil. Many of the sternbergs finds were near where they lived. I only mention them to begin this aside into my little piece of “what could of been.”
My great-great grandparents lived in Atoka, Ok. My great-great grandfather was born in Leonard, TX farmed a huge swath of southeastern Oklahoma and is buried in Atoka County. I have no idea where my great-great grandmother is buried, but that is not the point.
The point is, if James Benjamin Burnes had taken time out of his busy schedule of surviving he may have found this:
Arcanthrosaurus atokensis. It is entirely possible that he would have found nothing as well, but when you come across things discovered within walking distance of a past family farm, in a formation named after a town that my great grandfather’s brother lived in the thought does cross ones mind. There were hundreds (probably not that many) of other people that lived there, and they would have been equally likely to find the fossils, but their descendants are not writing pointless what if blogs on the internet.
My background is Eocene mammals, so it isn’t quite as heartbreaking that atokensis isn’t our family crest fossil, but the idea still is a fun one. Besides, James Benjamin as a young man cuts quite the paleontological figure.