Dec 19, 2022
Long before youtube, or television for that matter, entertainment looked quite different. One artist's take on it was to make a 1,300 foot panorama of the entire Upper and Lower Mississippi, which toured from city to city to the delight of viewers. Just press play to hear the whole story.
Podcast Transcript: I’m Hattie Felton, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Missouri Historical Society, and Here’s History on eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X. ------
Entertainment looked a lot different in the 19th century. Before smart tv’s with surround sound, before epic IMAX films, before virtual reality goggles, people looking for an entertaining experience could see a panorama show. These panoramas were painted scenes hundreds or even thousands of feet long, aimed at giving viewers an immersive, theatrical look at faraway cities or historic battles. St. Louis-based artist Henry Lewis once painted a 1,300-foot-long panoramic depicting the Mississippi River.
How do you go about reproducing every major town and landmark along the Mississippi River onto one long panorama? Lewis did it by floating down the river in a homemade raft, making notes and sketching everything he passed. He toured the resulting colossal painting from city to city, where audiences could marvel at the natural landscape and burgeoning towns along this watery thoroughfare of America’s west. Lewis’s original panorama is lost to history, but two of his sketchbooks depicting the Upper Mississippi River are preserved at the Missouri Historical Society. -----
Henry Lewis, originally from England, came to St. Louis in 1836. He found work as a carpenter but quickly discovered his true passion was art. Being self-taught didn’t hold Lewis back, and by the 1840s, his reputation as a skilled landscape painter earned him notice in the newspapers and the business of local citizens. Not content to spend all his time in a studio, Lewis took trips to paint the Mississippi River, which inspired his idea for a magnificent panoramic painting of the entire Upper and Lower Mississippi. -----
In 1848, Lewis and several assistants began their voyage from Minneapolis to St. Louis. The pages of his books are filled with sometimes detailed, but often fleeting pencil sketches, occasionally accented with bright touches of watercolors. The margins contain Lewis’ notes to help when it came time to transform his small sketches into the panorama. Among the many scenes he captured during that summer journey are Fort Madison Iowa, Quincy, Illinois, the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, and Hannibal, Missouri. Lewis created these sketches to wow his 19th century audiences, but today they give us a peek into life along the river, preserving rare glimpses of historic buildings and seldom-seen towns. -----
Here’s History is a joint production of K-D-H-X and the Missouri Historical Society. I’m Hattie Felton, and this is eighty-eight-one, K-D-H-X, St. Louis. ------