Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Art of the Hall of Presidents

"The skills of the sculptor, the talents of the artist, and marvels of space-age electronics make history 'live' inside The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. Sculptors spent two years creating life-size heads of all 36 American Presidents; a dozen artists painted 82 scenes in the style of famous painters of the period portrayed. Walt Disney originated the show concept in 1956, searching for 'a different and exciting way' to dramatize our American heritage." - The Story of Walt Disney World
"Literally hundreds of Disney artisans, designers, craftsmen, and technicians collaborated on 'The Hall of Presidents' attraction. Painstaking research, exacting execution, and technical innovations were required in order to achieve the degree of perfection demanded by Walt Disney.

A new five-screen, 70mm cinematic process was created which literally places the audience at the center of the action, sweeping it into the historical arena where the ethical, idealistic, and constitutional conflicts of the nation were raised and resolved.


More than a dozen internationally renowned artists working under the direction of four-time Academy Award winner John DeCuir worked daily for two years to create 85 masterpieces - some more than 40 feet long - in the style of the period when each specific action takes place.

Music, narration, and special sound effects accompany the images on the 'wrap-around' screen. For example, as an impressive composition of the Founding Fathers, based on a historical painting of the period, fills the screen, the words of George Washington echo through the theater..." - Walt Disney World Vacationland, Spring 1973

The following is a direct transcription of a seven-page memo intended for Walt Disney World Hostesses working at the brand new Hall of Presidents attraction. Although for the last decade or so the "Rotunda" waiting area of the attraction has featured portraiture of the Presidents, originally framed, mounted reproductions of the original WED art for the attraction hung on the walls. To this I have added notes, visuals of the artists and art styles noted for comparison, and, whenever possible, the original WED art itself. Click on the WED paintings for high resolution versions.


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HALL OF PRESIDENTS

PRE-SHOW AREA

BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR HOSTESSES

WED ENTERPRISES, INC.

SEPTEMBER 27, 1971

PAINTINGS


1. WASHINGTON ADDRESSING THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION SEPTEMBER 17, 1797.

(Note: although the painting I have reproduced above is not the one that this paragraph refers to, it is representative of the style of art depicted in this segment of the 1971 film. The actual WED portrait in question can still be seen in the 2009 version of the show.)


The location is the East Room, (Assembly Room) of the Pennsylvania State House – now known as Independence Hall. Both the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Constitution (1787) were signed in this same room.


On September 17, 1787, four months after the Convention had assembled, the finished Constitution was signed “By unanimous consent of the States present”. Fifty-five members of the Convention signed the Constitution.


The moment depicted in the painting is one of great satisfaction to those assembled. A confederation of sovereign states have banded together to form a Federal Union.


The painting is in the style of colonial artists like John Trumball, John Singleton Copley and Charles Willson Peale.


"Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull.

(High Resolution version may be seen here, via Wikipedia)


2. PENNSYLVANIA STATE HOUSE AND VICINITY – PHILADELPHIA, 1778.


The State House circa 1778 (taken from background of Charles Willson Peale painting of Conrad Alexandre Gerard). The State House became famous as Independence Hall (see #1).



George Washington at Princeton (1779) by Charles Willson Peale (via Wikipedia)


3. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

In the style of the French Artist, Joseph S. Duplessis (1725 – 1802). Duplessis actually painted Franklin in 1783.


Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) played a pivotal role in the Constitutional Convention. Already over 80, Franklin’s humor and willingness to act as an alder statesman helped the Convention over many rough spots. Probably his two most famous quotes during the Constitutional Convention are as follows:

1) At the signing – pointing to the gilded half-sun on the back of Washington’s chair, Franklin said, “I have often and often, in the course of the sessions and vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, not a setting, sun.”

2) Urging all delegates to sign the proposed draft, “In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government is necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution; for when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such as assembly can a perfect production be expected?...

On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it would, with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility."


Benjamin Franklin by J. Duplessis

4. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATOR
A portrait of Abraham Lincoln – this painting shows Lincoln as he appeared in 1858 at age 49 during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. At this time, Lincoln was running for U. S. Senator from Illinois – an election which he lost. However, the debates he conducted with Stephen A. Douglas during this campaign propelled him into national prominence.

5. PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN THE WHITE HOUSE – 1861

In this painting President Lincoln stands in the East Room of the White House. He has just been inaugurated and war clouds swirl about the United States. Will the southern states make good on their threat to secede from the Union?


The painting is accomplished in the style of Winslow Homer. Homer represented the school of naturalism, the realistic picturing of the contemporary scene. Homer painted by eye more than by tradition and he was an independent American pioneer of the impressionistic vision, then developing also in France.


"Artists Sketching in the White Mountains" by Winslow Homer


6. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA – VIEW FROM THE HARBOR, 1787.

A panoramic view of the City of Philadelphia in 1787. Shows the Delaware River in the foreground – with windmills and vessels – main bldgs (sic) shown are the Pennsylvania State House (site of the Constitutional Convention), Christ Church and Carpenter’s Hall.


Christ Church was completed in 1753-4 when the tower and steeple were built. During the time that Congress and the Federal Government were in Philadelphia a pew was retained for the Presidents of the U. S. – Washington and Adams. Franklin had a pew at Christ Church for many years as did Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution.


Carpenter’s Hall – the first Continental Congress met here in 1774. This hall was built in 1771, by a guild of carpenters and architects, for the accommodation of its members.


Windmill Island – so called because of the windmills upon it.


This painting shows the influence of the colonial artist, Charles Willson Peale.


7. UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES IN EVENING SESSION, 1832

The painting depicts the lower house in session during the Nullification controversy of the early 1830’s.


The south under the leadership of Robert Hayne and John C. Calhoun, both of South Carolina, attacked high tariffs and the land stakes as discriminatory against their section. The doctrine of Nullification they prepared claimed that each state retained the right to interpose and nullify “unconstitutional” acts of the national government. When Andrew Jackson was re-elected in 1832, he found himself facing a Nullification Crisis regarding South Carolina. The state declared that federal tariff laws would not be enforced. Jackson in his “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina” asserted that no state had the right to annul a federal law. “To say that any state may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation”. With the passage of the Force Bill, Congress made ready to employ military means to collect Tariff duties. South Carolina, faced with the might of the U.S., backed down.


This painting is based upon one of Samuel F. B. Morse’s works “The Old House of Representatives” completed in 1822. Morse (1781 – 1872), perhaps best-known as a portrait artist, actually had all of the 88 assembled legislators pose for their portraits. At age 41 Morse turned to tinkering with electricity.


8. PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN REFLECTS ON THE COURSE OF THE CIVIL WAR

This painting showing a pensive Abraham Lincoln shows him in either his study or the cabinet room. As is true of painting #5 the loneliness of responsibility and command decision seems to fill the canvas.


(The painting described here did not appear in the original version of the attraction and may have been one of the many paintings of Lincoln Sam McKim executed for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.)


9. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN CONVERSES WITH ALEXANDER HAMILTON

This cameo of Franklin and Hamilton talking at the signing of the Constitution is based on a Trumbull painting.


The personalities of Franklin and Hamilton provide an interesting counterpoint. Franklin was experienced, warm, philosophical, reasonable and homey while Hamilton was young, brilliant, cold, absolute and ambitious.


10. THE LAST SIGNATORY TO THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION (See #1)

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2 comments:

ericpaddon said...

A wonderful post and as the biggest fan there ever was of the original "Hall Of Presidents" program, it's fascinating to learn these details behind the paintings created for the attraction. Many times I can recall sitting in the Rotunda and taking time to study the paintings while hearing Buddy Baker's underscore from the film providing a light accompaniment over the sound system.

The contemplative painting of Lincoln, accompanied by Royal Dano's, "Without a Union, the Constitution is only a piece of paper" remains a high point of Disney artistry in storytelling for me.

My copy of Birnbaum's Guide to Disney World from 1985 notes that some of the paintings from the latter part of the film, the Wright Brothers and the auto race roadster, were hung in the Penny Arcade on Main Street. I'm assuming those disappeared from there sometime in the 90s, the same decade when we sadly lost the original program along with so much else throughout WDW.

FoxxFur said...

There is one last place you can see some Hall of Presidents art on Main Street.... in City Hall you can see the full size version of the Driving of the Golden Spike, which is quite the awe-inspiring painting which you'd have no idea of in the microscopic close-up of *part of it* in the current show. Sadly we did lose the "Century of Change" paintings with the Penny Arcade, but who knows... maybe they'll show up somewhere someday. It's pretty unusual for Disney to throw out stuff like that, even if it's just rotting in a maintenance bay somewhere, like the original Figment figures....