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Art Notes: Historic theater curtains are making a comeback with restorations

  • Musicians pose for a portrait in front of the "grand drape" in Lyceum Hall, on the second floor of the Canaan Meeting House, circa 1920. (Courtesy of Donna Zani-Dunkerton)

  • Detail of the "grand drape" that once hung in the Canaan Meeting House. Restoration of the painted theater curtain, which dates to the 1890s, is slated to begin on May 29. (Judith Kushner photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 01, 2019

One of the great New England art stories of the past 20 years is the ongoing restoration of the many 19th- and early-20th-century painted theater curtains that once brightened the region’s public buildings.

Since 1996, an effort led by Vermont resident Chris Hadsel has located and restored around 500 painted curtains, first in Vermont, then, in New Hampshire and Maine.

The curtains, which tend to date from 1890 to 1940, usually were hung in front of stages in town halls and grange halls to serve as scenery for the public entertainments of the day, typically vaudeville-style performances and film screenings. They often depict Vermont scenery, or scenes from Europe or antiquity, the canals of Venice, for example, or a Roman chariot race.

When the curtains became worn, or when people decided to stop using them, they were often thrown away, but thrifty Northern New Englanders tended to hang onto them. Fairlee’s “grand drape,” a style of curtain meant to look like a ritzy theatrical backdrop, was found wrapped up in the town hall’s basement in 1998.

Dozens have been conserved and returned to public display in the Upper Valley alone, thanks to the work of Curtains Without Borders, a nonprofit Hadsel founded to carry out this work.

Canaan is among the towns to have rediscovered its painted theater curtains, and they are slated to be conserved and displayed this spring, according to a news release from the Cardigan Mountain Art Association.

The curtains to be restored include a grand drape, made in the mid-1920s for the Indian River Grange and a grand drape from the 1890s that graced the Canaan Meeting House, which had a second-floor theater added to its original design in 1884. The Meeting House’s curtains — the grand drape, which features a scene of the Chateau de Chillon, an island castle on Lake Geneva, and three backdrops — were found rolled up in the attic in the 1970s when the Meeting House was restored to its original single floor with a balcony.

In researching the “Chillon” grand drape, Curtains Without Borders found that it was painted by the Levi J. Couch Scenic Co., in South Boston, Mass. Canaan’s curtains are the only ones found in New Hampshire from this company.

Work on the curtains is slated to begin in the Meeting House on May 29 and conclude on June 5, with funding from the state’s Mooseplate program, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and private donations. The public is welcome to view and participate in the work.

The Center for The Arts sponsors a First Friday Gallery Night in New London from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The New London Inn hosts a group photography show; Blue Loon Bakery shows watercolors by Mary Belecz and Bar Harbor Bank and Trust on Main Street shows work by Kearsarge Middle and High School students. Through July 31. Also open for First Friday will be the Emil Nelson Gallery, Tatewell Gallery and New London Hospital.

First Friday in White River Junction

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since Stacy Hopkins opened Scavenger Gallery. Bigger than a bread box, but smaller than a powder room, Scavenger has been a showcase for Hopkins’ handmade jewelry as well as for work by Upper Valley artists. Currently on view are “Flower Portraits” by Sue Lawrence and paintings, also of flowers, by her husband Andrew Williams. Friday’s reception, from 5:30 to 7:30 in the evening, will feature a wine tasting of selections from Artisanal Cellars.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio opens “You Are the Music,” prints by Hartford artist Joan Morris, who usually works with fabric. A reception is planned for 5 to 7 p.m.

“Littles,” comprising 72 small paintings by Amy Hook-Therrien, of leaves on the forest floor, opens with a reception from 6 to 8 Friday night at Long River Gallery.

And Zollikofer Gallery, in the Hotel Coolidge, holds a reception from 5 to 7 for Burlington artist Kevin Ruelle, whose paintings of faux Vermont travel posters is on view through June 25.

Openings and receptions

Tunbridge Public Library hosts “Landscapes,” oil paintings by Thetford artist Jean Gerber, from Sunday through June 17. A reception is planned for 2 to 4 p.m. on June 2.

Of note

“Ink Slingers,” an exhibition of cartoon drawings from the collection of New Yorker cartoonist, and Cornish resident, Harry Bliss, is on view at Philip Read Memorial Library in Plainfield. The show, which includes original drawings by cartoonists and illustrators, is on view through June.

Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art holds the second of three major events planned for this year on Friday. A symposium, titled “Art, Artists, and the Museum: A Conversation,” which is free and open to the public, brings together artists whose work is currently on display in the museum, Hood curators and Dartmouth faculty. See the Hood’s website for more information.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio is holding a series of workshops led by Upper Valley printmakers through the spring. The next, pronto plate lithography with Mary Mead, is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, go to tworiversprintmaking.org.

Closing

Tunbridge Public Library. Woodburning and painting by tattoo artist Tom Ball. Through May 3.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. “Bringing the Bull Home,” work on paper and in ceramics and painted shoes by Rick Skogsberg, and “Figures in the Landscape,” recent paintings by Burlington artist Peter Fried. Through Saturday.

Ongoing

Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, Meriden. “Duckworth XXXIII - Abstraction and the Infinite Plane,” the museum’s 33rd and penultimate exhibition of Aidron Duckworth’s work, through July 21; and “An Ocean of Galaxies,” recent work by New York city artist Tara Sabharwal, through June 2.

Betty Grant Gallery, Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Just People,” paintings by Liliana Paradiso. Through June.

Chandler Gallery, Randolph. “Eye-catching,” the annual Area Artists Exhibition, is on view through June 15.

Chelsea Public Library. “Revered Vermont Libraries,” drawings in Prismacolor pencil by Woodstock artist Gary Barron. Through June 30.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. Pastels by former Upper Valley resident Phyllis Orem. Through June 1.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon. Spring exhibitions include work by painter Collin Leech; photographers Joan Crimlisk and John Lehet; watercolorists Nick Mayer and Marion Blodgett; multi-media artist Stacy Harshman; and the hospital’s employees and volunteers.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. Artwork by students at Hanover Street School. Through May.

Long River Gallery, White River Junction. “Through the Trees,” pastels by White River Junction artist Kathryn Detzer.

Main Street Museum, White River Junction. “Jack Rowell, Cultural Documentarian: Portraits of Vermont People and Other Wildlife.”

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. “Flower Portraits,” Claremont artist Sue Lawrence’s oil paintings of floral blossoms.

Steven Thomas Inc. Fine Arts & Antiques, White River Junction. Work by Upper Valley “vintage” artists, such as Alice Standish Buell, John Semple and Horace Brown.

Zollikofer Gallery, White River Junction. Paintings and tourism posters by Burlington painter Kevin Ruelle. Through June 26.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.