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Cyclorama’s secrets yet to be revealed!

April 1, 2011

"The Cyclorama Code"When socialite, civic activist and world traveler Eleanor Massey Bridges was commissioned to create a painted installation for the main lobby of the Brown-Marx Tower at Birmingham’s “heaviest corner on Earth”, she was nearing the end of her life — a life that spanned most of the city’s history.

The resulting work is a massive and complexly-organized collage of images from the city’s cultural and technological history. From the Muskogean brave on his chocolate palomino it circles through time to the microcellular manipulations of Southern Research Institute, with every roaring furnace, quivering harp string, glittering ball gown and  fluttering flag in between. Surely Bridges intended for her masterpiece to convey a message to the future, to surpass the sum of its myriad parts. But the key to unraveling the mystery has, so far as anyone can tell, been lost.

The great cyclorama was left unfinished and was never installed at the site for which it was painstakingly designed. The ghostly penciled image of Brother Bryan hovers over a cluster of church towers on one side. Phantom lines converge into an unidentifiable web on the other. And, staring mutely out at the viewer—taunting us perhaps—sits the infant Vulcan in his apron, rosy cheeked, but sad-eyed, his hammer laid to rest beside his chubby feet.

What is the secret of the cyclorama? What of the oryx? …the haunted mansion? …the formula for mass-energy exchange? …the caduceus? What of the worker astride the globe? …of the lithe Elektra? …the aviator? …the obelisk? …the tolling bell? And where does the white rabbit lead us? The Cyclorama is now permanently displayed at the Birmingham History Center. Come see it yourself and try to solve the mystery.

Cyclorama of Birmingham History

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gene Meier permalink
    March 31, 2013 4:23 pm

    I am writing the first book from the American point of view about 19th century rotunda panoramas.These were the biggest paintings in the world, 50 x 400=20,000 square feet, housed in their own rotundas which were 16-sided polygons.Chicago in 1893 had 6 panorama companies and 6 panorama rotundas.


  2. Dez permalink
    April 5, 2011 10:19 am

    A great tease, John. When I was hired back in 2009, the “monster,” as I called it, had already been moved into the exhibit space (by cutting a huge hole in the wall). My first thought on looking at it was “Can we burn it?” It had suffered in storage, had some water damage and just took up a lot of valuable space. My exhibit designers really didn’t know what to think of it or where to place it. It was unfinished and it had some interesting interpretations of the area’s history and raises a lot of questions. Were the Creek Indians the only natives to use the bridle strap? Why was General Eisenhower on the mural? Why was our Baby Vulcan so cute when the legend is that he was so ugly when born that he was thrown off Mount Olympus? How many historical murals give a prominent place to an owner of a brothel? Why is Bear Bryant on the same side as a ballerina, a poet/author, and Electra? Why is Arlington superimposed in yellow outline over other historic homes? Why two Confederate battle flags on a mural about a city that was founded 6 years after the Civil War? I suppose only the artist can reply. But I have to admit, the “monster” has grown on me. It certainly is a conversation piece – a big conversation piece. When people ask if we plan to restore it or finish those sections that Ms. Bridges did not – I ask them, “Would you tamper with an unfinished DaVinci?” It is there, right in the middle of everything, where it is going to stay.


  3. April 1, 2011 11:28 am

    Great new blog guys! I’ll post about it in my own blog soon. A welcome addition to the Birmingham blogosphere.


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