The Pasadena Scottish Rite Cathedral Scene

From the handwritten diary of Thomas Moses for the year 1931:

“May 12, 1931, Thursday

Went to Pasadena a little late today and put in a lot of time at the Consistory visiting. I must get over there again to see some of the works. I have to keep in touch with all sorts of work. The Cathedral is well kept and it will be good for a number of years.”

Below is the picture of the Cathedral that Moses is referring to – still hanging in the Pasadena Scottish Rite.  When he wrote this entry, he was 75 years old, struggling as a scenic artist, and enjoying sketching trips with artist John Englehart.



Painting Drapery


“The imitation of different fabrics depends chiefly upon the character of the folds and, in the next place, upon the appearance they present as rough or smooth, dull or brilliant.  This is evident by their easy representation by various means, such as simple crayons or the strokes of the graver.  Even their texture, as coarse or fine, is denoted in the same manner; so that the color has but little or no part in their indication.  This is as a general rule, of in case of satins, velvets, and some other stuffs of silk, we perceive that the configuration of the folds, though important, does not hold the principle place.  Thus satin, with its large, sufficiently remarkable folds, is distinguished still more by its singular brilliancy and the beauty of its reflection.”

Excerpt from Frank Atkinson, “Scene Painting and Bulletin Art” (1916, page 60)

Below are two Scottish Rite drop details depicting drapery. The first is from Fort Scott’s Treasure chamber and the second is Salina’s front curtain.



Map to Fox Lake

Sometimes hidden treasures can be found on the back of drops.  Things completely unrelated to the composition or destination location for the scenery installation.  On the back of one Scottish Rite scene from Winona, Minnesota is a map to Fox Lake.  In Thomas Gibbs Moses’ typed manuscript he discusses visits to Fox Lake in 1907:

“June 1st, I made my first trip to the Palette and Chisel Club camp at Fox Lake, Ill. Helped to put up the tent. A new experience for me, but I enjoyed it. I slept well on a cot. Made a few sketches. A very interesting place. I don’t like the cooking in the tent and there should be a floor in the tent. I saw a great many improvements that could be made in the outfit and I started something very soon.

A short trip to Kansas City for another contract returned me to Chicago just in time for me to catch the train for Fox Lake, so I didn’t allow business to interfere with my pleasure. We opened our annex studio at 19 W. 20th Street in July, and Ansel Cook went there as a manager. He did some very good work but was a long time doing it, which, of course, didn’t pay us.”




The Rejection of Painted Illusion

“…it has been said [George Fuchs] had much to do with the development of “relief theatre,” where the aim is to accentuate the decorative value of the moving figures, by the use of a very shallow stage and a very flat background. Further, George Fuchs was reported to have said, “ Let the stage painter, too, be content to stay in his own domain. He should not attempt to give the illusion of depth by depicting the three dimensions. He has enough to do if he confines himself to his proper problem of lines and planes.” In this University of Minnesota MA Thesis from 1951, James R Thompson (“Influences of Modern Painting on the “New Stagecraft”) uses a quote from “The New Stage Art” (1914, page 75).

I understand why and how this artistic movement pushed forward; what made it so appealing. But after centuries of creating dimension with paint, this movement instigated the loss of painting techniques and scene painting methodology.

Below is a detail picture from a York Rite degree in Grand Forks Minnesota (Masonic Temple). It is a translucent section of the drop from the biblical scene – the burning bush. I love the angel’s face.img_5199




The Ability to Draw

“To make an acceptable scenic or bulletin artist, you must be able to draw, as well as paint, almost every conceivable object in Nature, as well as articles of manufacture, embracing a great many mechanical objects which must be represented with truthful fidelity as to detail and form.”Excerpt from Frank Atkinson’s “Scene Painting and Bulletin Art” (1916, page 69)

Same song, second verse…I am always astounded at the various skill levels at Sosman & Landis.  Yesterday, I posted a detail from the Winona, Minnesota, Scottish Rite with the scales of justice. The proportions of the figure and the drapery are not well done at all.


Here is another example of the same composition from the Wichita Scottish Rite in Kansas.  A far superior artistic created this version of the small drop for the Vision Scene (17th Degree in the Scottish Rite).

WichitaSRTPix 24

Figure Drawing by the Poor Draftsman

“In making full-length drawing of a female figure in costume from nature, arrange the drapery to give a final impression of the contour of the figure.  Do not have the figure entirely hidden away by heavy folds of cloth.  A poor draftsman usually shows a female figure as a mass of drapery, with head and feet obtruding from it.  The thing is to make the gown appear as if it were really enveloping the human figure; to suggest the figure underneath by carefully drawing its every curve and line an arranging all the folds of the drapery to bring out this point.”

Excerpt from Frank Atkinson’s “Scene Painting and Bulletin Art” (1916, page 68.

Attached is a perfect example of the figure drawing by a “poor draftsman.”  This small drop is for the Vision Scene (17th degree) currently in storage at the Winona Masonic theatre.  Although the figure painters at Volland Studios (St. Louis) were far superior to those at other studios, this example is particularly bad for a Sosman & Landis scenic artist.  Over the years, I have recorded some of the worst figure-drawing examples in these small scenes. They typically fall behind the temple ruins in the Volcano drop and are fairly obscured by the surround and the dramatic lighting.  This is the scene where the thunder rumbles, the lightening flashes, and the volcano explodes – sending rivulets of lava down the mountain.  Pretty fun!

It does makes me wonder if these small drops were intended as a training ground.  However, maybe they just indicate busy times and unskilled labor.


Tonight’s Guest Speaker

I am the guest speaker at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center tonight for the Forest Lake Lodge stated meeting! It is a wonderful opportunity to talk about my artistic and intellectual contributions during the planning and construction stages of this fraternal complex.

This new complex includes a 425-seat jewel box theatre, currently awaiting the Scottish Rite scenery collection from the Fort Scott, Kansas. I supervised the removal and transportation of this historic collection eleven month ago and consists of 92 drops.  This 1924 collection was created by Thomas Gibbs Moses (at the age of 68) and will one day hang from dedicated line sets that were designed by Dan Culhane at SECOA for the theatre consulting firm of Schuler Shook.

Detail images of this stunning collection will frequently appear on this page in the upcoming months!