“A permanent color is a color that retains the hue recorded at the time of painting. Among the permanent colors are a number that intensify or deepen the value and quality. This is due, not so much to their chemical composition as to the action of the oil used in the reduction, which has a tendency to deepen.” Excerpt from Frank Atkinson, Scene Painting and Bulletin Art (1915, page 16)
Vandyke Brown: (bituminous earth) a rich, transparent pigment; permanent; slow drier.
“The most essential thing to know about color is whether it is fugitive or permanent, poisonous or non-poisonous. A fugitive color is one that fades or diminishes from the hue recorded at the time of painting, after exposure to light, either in a long or short duration of time. Fugitive color should be avoided if the work is desired for permanent exhibition, but can be used indiscriminately if the work is of a temporary nature, or for reproduction.” Excerpt by Frank Atkinson in Scene Painting and Bulletin Art (1916, page 16)
Scottish Rite Scenery Collections were intended as works of a “temporary nature.” Scenic artists selected many colors for their vibrancy, not their permanency. These large-scale artworks were never intended as part of a permanent collection. All of the painted collections that I have restored over the years show signs of fading and the proof is what remained hidden under sandwich battens. When the battens at the top and bottom of each drop are removed, brilliant colors reappear and show their original vibrancy.
“Foliage, even in masses, should have a feeling of looseness, a quick, flirting touch with a pointed brush, varying the touch as the formation of the mass dictates.” From Scene Painting and Bulletin Art, Frank Atkinson, 1916, page 33.
I was hired by the City of Winona in 2014 to temporarily store all of their scenery into an onstage storage unit. Paul Sannerud was the certified rigger that gently lowered the drops to the stage floor. The purpose of the project was to safeguard their 1909 painted scenery collection while the building was underwent extensive repairs. The roof had leaked for years, causing unsightly water damage on most of the drops. Streams of water had run down the stage left, center, and stage right sides to the point that raw fabric was often visible and the dye rings were extreme! During our project it rained heavily one day and the roof leaked – again. Luckily, the drops in that area had been removed and we simply watched a puddle of rainwater appear on the stage floor. After all of the scenes were removed we were able to identify the leak as and we could clearly see the sky from the stage floor!!! I have some doubt that these scenes will ever be restored and hang under stage lights. They are heavily damaged and will be extremely expensive to repair. The building has also been considered for venues that could not support the need for this historic scenery collection. Therefore, I am starting with some painting details from the 1909 Sosman & Landis installation, specifically details from the 18th degree (Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry). Scenic studios typically labelled this scene as the “Constellation.” The reason for this label is that the words Faith, Hope, and Charity appear in the night sky as stars. Over time, members of the Fraternity (in all areas of the country) attempt to make the original stage effects BETTER. In the case of the translucent areas for the revelation of words, they apply paint on the backside of the drop to prevent light from leaking when backlit. Light will appear in worn areas of fabric; the application of an opaque product on the back will prevent this problem. This works great – on NEW drops, not old dry pigment drops. In the case with Winona, this application of new paint caused two unfortunate consequences: the fabric both shrunk and these sky areas were discolored. The application of a liquid may cause an original dry pigment painted surface to “blossom” (my term). Sometimes there are granules of undissolved pigment in the original paint coat; granules that were never fully mixed into the original color. Adding liquid on top of this type of paint (or under this paint from the backside of the drop) will cause these hidden granules of color to “blossom” on the painted surface. Here is an example of a warm dry pigment color that “blossomed” in the blue night sky when it was back-painted.
There is very little posted online in regard to contemporary uses for dry pigment in the theatre or for replicating historic compositions for the stage. Old books, manuscripts, and other articles cover certain studio techniques that have been frozen in time – often in a ragged publication. Lost words from forgotten artists describe painting techniques and color palettes. These artists warn of fugitive or poisonous colors and proclaim the various color kings on the palette. I have decided to start an online journey and dialogue with my fellow historians, passing along information for future generations of artists to decipher. Please be patient as I figure out how to use an unfamiliar forum. I just want to pass along a little information your way and keep the use of dry pigment for the theatre alive.
My name is Wendy Waszut-Barrett and I am a historical consultant and scenic artist! For years, I ran a Minnesota-based company that specialized in the evaluation, appraisal, restoration and replication of painted scenery for the theatre. Once again I find myself traveling across the country to examine historic scenery collections. I have just started this blog to document both past and present dry pigment discoveries, wishing to simply pass along a little color and information.