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A Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World

The Grand Panorama being installed at Kilburn Mill.

A nice perk of being a writer and journalist is the opportunity to check things out before they are headlines. That happened last week when I got a preview of the Whaling Museum’s restored 1,275 foot long “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World.”

Originally painted around 1850, it was lost in an attic for years before being discovered and donated to the museum. The last time it was displayed in its entirety was 1964, in New Bedford and at the World’s Fair in Queens. Now, it is being exhibited at Kilburn Mill at Clarks Cove, located in the city’s south end at 127 W. Rodney French Boulevard.

That’s where I was a week ago this morning, being given a tour of the space and a look at the panorama for a Standard-Times story I was writing. (Story here, with additional exhibit information.) Scheduled to open that Saturday, it was all hustle and bustle at Kilburn that morning – but the owners and crew were gracious with their time and gave me great access to the building.

Since the museum wanted to keep the stunning work under wraps until the opening, I was only able to take a few pictures and promised not to share them until after the debut. That has happened (the free exhibit is open to the public now every day from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.) so I can share a few snaps and observations here.

One observation is this: do enjoy these photos, but recognize that they are no substitute for seeing the Grand Panorama in person. It’s a “WOW” best experienced for yourself.

Another thought is about the space itself. It is terrific to see it activated and utilized for this purpose. Hopefully it will inspire thoughts of just how best to use great buildings like these for new purposes going forward.

Groundwork! itself is located in a historic building that’s a good example of adaptive reuse. Originally built in 1898 as a textile school, it’s now home to this coworking space and other offices. As New Bedford architect Kathryn Duff says, “An existing building is the most sustainable building.”

Kilburn Mill overlooks beautiful Clarks Cove and the Cove Walk.

Finally, while we sometimes take the complicated legacy of whaling for granted, it’s still a defining characteristic of New Bedford’s history. And, the restoration of this unique work of art – the longest painting in the entire world, according to the Whaling Museum – is, to quote Joe Biden, a BFD.

It is bringing national and international attention to the city and burnishing its appeal as an arts destination. As the old saying goes, you can’t buy that kind of publicity. Generously sharing the news about this one-of-a-kind event in the City of New Bedford speaks well of all of us as gracious hosts to visitors this summer.

Steven Froias