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Lecture to include Magic Lantern Slides

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The General Lew Wallace Study & Museum’s Dr. Howard Miller Lecture Series continues with a talk by Dr. Howard Miller of Austin, Texas. Miller will discuss “A World in Motion: Travelers and Tourists in Ben-Hur” on Thursday. His talk begins at 7 p.m. in the Carriage House Interpretive Center.

Miller will illustrate his lecture with slides from the Study’s set of slides from the first major adaptation of Ben-Hur, the 1896 magic lantern series that was made and promoted, illegally, by the English company, Riley Brothers Inc. The forerunner of the slide projector, the “magic lantern” was a mechanism that used at least one set of lenses and some form of light — first candles and oil, then limelight, and finally arc light, the forerunner of electricity — to illuminate and project scenes that were usually photographic and then hand-painted. A good projectionist could advance the scenes so quickly that they seemed almost to move. Magic lanterns shows were, in fact, the earliest “moving pictures.” They were sold for both commercial use in theaters and for use as family entertainment in the homes.

The Riley Brothers set included 72 glass slides and a printed narration, called an “epitome,” which related Wallace’s “tale of the Christ” by either quoting from Ben-Hur or condensing in its own words the plot of the story. The first two-dozen of the slides were painted by an artist named F.W. Weeks, whose scenes tended to be very ornate, quite colorful and rather dramatic. But the majority of the slides were painted by a female artist named Nannie Preston, whose style was simpler and more restrained.

Miller’s lecture will serve as background to the lecture that will be given two weeks later at the Study at 7 p.m. Sept. 26, by Linda Witkowski, a painting conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. That lecture, entitled “Madame Lucinda’s Magic Lantern Show,” will trace the history of the magic lantern tradition and will be illustrated in part by the Riley Brothers slides of Ben-Hur.

This lecture is made possible through a grant from Indiana Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as a grant from the Montgomery County Community Foundation. The lecture is free and open to the public, but space is limited. As a result, reservations are strongly requested. To make a reservation or for more information call Larry Paarlberg at 765-362-5769 or email study@ben-hur.com.

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