Polar Panoramas

All Things Polar

Prof. Russell Potter in the Arctic!

This page is a collection of all things polar and panoramic: 19th Century Arctic panoramas and modern day interpretations;  moving panoramas and stationary panoramas; the Arctic and the Antarctic. The common threads are polar expeditions and the influence of Professor Russell Potter, a historian of Victorian Arctic expeditions, pictured here in the Arctic!

Here you will find rare pictures and links to information about 19th Century Arctic Moving Panoramas, kindly supplied by Russell Potter.  You will also find three modern day interpretations from these artists:  Sara Velas from Los Angeles;  The Wonder Show from Providence, Rhode Island and myself, Sue Truman, from Seattle.

Russell A. Potter PhD



Russell Potter is professor of English at Rhode Island College.  He spent over a decade researching and collecting images for this fabulous book Arctic Spectacles.  Read more about it  here  





In Victorian times, the Arctic was remote, mysterious and untamed.  It captured the imagination of artists and the public alike.  With every Arctic expedition, there came the artists' response in the form of moving panoramas, stationary 360 degree panoramas, dioramas, engravings, magic lantern slides and fine art.


The most famous 19th Century Arctic expedition was that of Sir John Franklin (1845).  Their mission was to discover the NW Passage (sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific above North America). Both ships and all crew were lost. There have been over 30 expeditions over the last 150 years, to find out what happened to the crew of 128.


BREAKING NEWS!! On Sept. 9th, 2014, the Canadian government announced that it had found one of the Franklin expedition ships, the Erebus, lying on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, in 35 feet of water, off King Willam Island.  It will take years of patient research to discover the ship's secrets and unravel the mystery of what happened.  To follow along, check out Russell Potter's blog, Visions of the North.  VERY EXCITING!




View of the North Coast of Spitzbergen. From the collection of Russell A. Potter. Photo copyright 2004. Used with permission. Thank you Russell Potter!


Sadly, none of the 19th Century stationary panoramas or moving panoramas survived, but information can be gleaned from newspaper articles of the day, souvenirs, broadsides and in this case, a program key from the exhibit.  Read more about the first (1819) Arctic panorama View of the North Coast of Spitzbergen here.

From the collection of Russell A. Potter. Used with permission.


Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857) was an American explorer in the US Navy. He was a member of two Arctic expeditions to rescue the explorer Sir John Franklin and his men. There were four different panoramas based on Kane's expeditions.  Russell Potter writes about them here.

From the collection of Russell A. Potter. Used with permission.


To read more of Russell Potter's musings, visit his blog Visions of the North: The Terrors of the Frozen Zone, Past and Present.


Effulgence of the North
The Effulgence of the North is a 360 degree stationary panorama painted by Sara Velas. It is housed at the Velaslavasay Panorama in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more at their website panoramaonview.org

The Arctic Theatre Royal

From Providence, Rhode Island, The Wonder Show is Laura Brown-Lavoie, Carolyn Gennari, and Jeremy Radtke. They present contemporary reinterpretations of the Victorian popular art form of the magic lantern show.  In their newest work, The Arctic Theatre Royal, they combine the use of a crankie with the magic lantern slides!

 This performance tells the story of one of the earliest arctic explorations (1821-1823)  led by Captain William Parry.  This performance uses direct text from shipboard  publications including, Captain Parry’s journals, The North Georgia Gazette– a shipboard newspaper, as well as playbills from an impromptu performance space, The Arctic Theatre Royal,  in which the performance takes its name from.

Visit their website to learn more and download the program booklet. Stay tuned, I may be able to post a video of the show.  Can't wait to see this!

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition of 1902-1904

I came across this amazing photograph from the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition of 1902-1904.  It sparked my curiosity and the more I learned, the more I wanted to create a crankie about this expedition.    Scientifically, it was one of the most successful expeditions of its era but it is also one of the least well-known (no one starved, no one died) and I felt it deserved more recognition.  And, being in a musical group with the  award-winning piper Skye Richendrfer,  how could I not make a crankie about this story?

This photograph is of piper Gilber Kerr who was testing the effects of pipe music on penguins.  The picture was taken by the expedition leader, William Spears Bruce.

Here's the title "page" of my Antarctic crankie "The Scotia" which was the name of the ship.
The Return of the Scotia from the Antarctic Expedition of 1902-1904
This is actual film footage from 1904 - the Scotia returns to Scotland after two years of exploration.

Sue Truman - This page was created in 2014.Heart