SACO – As Hollywood rolls out its newest line of summer blockbuster movies, the Saco Museum is hoping to draw audiences with an old classic, created in 1851.

The museum will open a major, multifaceted exhibition, beginning June 30, showcasing a historic 800’ moving panorama of painted scenes from John Bunyan’s 1678 literary classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

The massive canvas scroll of historic American art is considered a precursor to modern film.
Such panoramas were popular with 19th century audiences, who packed theaters across the country to view the unrolling scenes that were accompanied by narration and music.

The Pilgrims Progress scroll was stored in a Biddeford barn following its final showing in York County more than 100 years ago.

In 1896 is was donated to the then York Museum where it was forgotten over time.

Rediscovered in 1996, the panorama was partially restored and briefly exhibited in 1999.

A nearly $52,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, given in 2009, supported the full restoration of the panorama by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center of Massachusetts. Those funds also provided the creation of two interpretive tools: a full-scale replica of the panorama and an interactive music and narration video.

Now, for the first time since the 1860s, the panorama will be viewed by modern audiences at two downtown venues.

A 600’ section of and scroll will be displayed at the Pepperell Mills Complex in Biddeford and the remaining section will be exhibited at the Saco Museum along with an array of prints, books and other materials relating to the panorama and the history of the book “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

The museum has planned a number of related activities over the next few months, including live performances interpreting the scroll, gallery talks, family events and a public symposium.

The museum and Dyer Library also are partnering with the Kent State University Press to produce a book about the nearly 15-year research and restoration project.

Due out in 2013, the publication will include Bunyan’s original, unabridged text of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” all 40 major panorama scenes and an essay on the relevance of the panorama and its themes by Saco Museum Director Jessica Skwire Routhier.

A preview performance of the full-scale, modern replica will be shown at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in conjunction with Saco’s 250th anniversar celebration.

An opening reception for the exhibit is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. on June 29. 

For more details, call 283-3861, ext. 114 or visit www.dyerlibrarysacomuseum.org.