2001: There is a wall – 3.6 metres high, 50 metres long and curved to form a complete circle. It began it’s life completely white, but at this stage the painting is nearing completion. Broad sweeps of an airbrush have provided the under-painting of shades of blue for sea & sky, and as the year progresses the two artists spend many hours with increasingly fine paintbrushes as they work on details in the painted scenes. At this advanced stage the ship’s riggings are being meticulously drafted and painted, and tiny figures have begun to appear in the busy Portsmouth harbour scene and on-board ships.
The interior wall they were working on was the centrepiece to the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, a 360 degree panoramic painting depicting the story of how the Bounty mutineer descendants came to settle on Norfolk Island. The original idea was the brainchild of islander Marie Bailey, whose travels had taken her to see a Cyclorama in Quebec, painted in the 1800s. she felt it would be the perfect way to convey the Bounty story, and developed the idea with local artists, Tracey Yager and Sue Draper.
The precedents for the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama can be found in the rise of cycloramas in the 19th Century, where they were a popular form of entertainment prior to the rise of cinema. Often painted on canvas and transportable, the 360 degree scenes might include vistas of cities, significant battles or religious stories. In their heyday hundreds were exhibited around the world, including some in Australian cities. They declined in popularity after 1900 but significant historic cycloramas still exist around the world. In recent times the cyclorama art-form has seen a renaissance, with up to 60 new and historic cycloramas on exhibition around the world in any given year.
Back on Norfolk, meticulous preparation & research for historical authenticity underpinned each of the scenes selected to tell the story, and in June 2001 the two artists were to begin the painting, a process which would ultimately take 16 months. Towards completion, artist Glenn Douran also brought her portrait-painting skills to the work, and jazz musician Rick Robertson developed a soundtrack incorporating traditional island hymns and sound effects.
Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama was opened to the public in October 2002 to wide acclaim, and rapturous comments in the visitors book include, “Most amazing tourist attraction I’ve ever seen”, “Gloriously painted” and “Moved to tears”. For many repeat visitors and locals, Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama is a touchstone to the essence of the Norfolk story, a way into something more intangible underpinning a story of relocation and a blending of cultures.
“People do feel very connected to it” says Tracey Yager, “which is very gratifying both as an artist and as an islander. We feel very fortunate that people have a profound response to the work.”
The gateway to the Cyclorama is through Gallery Guava, which itself is a showcase of local talent. The gallery shop exhibits a wide range of local products and artworks which include bone carvings, sterling silver jewellery, fine porcelain and glassware, as well as paintings, drawings, prints and homewares, all lovingly crafted by island artists.
Now, nearly 20 years on, Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama has its own story to tell as a world-class visitor attraction that continues to receive accolades and awards. And Gallery Guava remains a renowned gallery space offering the best of local creativity and talent, and together they continue to be an important feature of any Norfolk Island itinerary.
Image credit: Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama