Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 8 – Our First Day on the Job in Fort Scott

Part 8: Our First Day on the Job in Fort Scott
As I was unable to conduct a complete evaluation during August, our first few days were spent documenting the various scenes. My preliminary evaluation only depicted the individual drops and I needed to accurately record how each drop was paired with others to stage a complete scene and the subsequent spacing. This was crucial to any understanding of the entire collection as a whole prior to its removal and transportation. It was also imperative that there be “before” pictures for both historical documentation and as a resource during restoration and installation. Furthermore, as Curatorial Director one of my tasks would be to create a publication documenting the acquisition, restoration, significance and artistic provenance of this art collection.
Only the project lead, Brandon, and his second, Todd, were on site that first day. The remaining two members of the crew were still in transit from Jackson, Tennessee, hauling up the necessary supplies and tools for the project. This worked out perfectly as we needed to complete the documentation prior to lowering any scenes, as well as thoroughly inspecting the site and preparing the stage area.
The first morning after cordial, but stilted introductions, we left for the Scottish Rite. We entered the building and noted the immediate chill, each realizing that our working environment would be a cold one. Before lowering anything, we decided to explore the theatre area and inspect our working environment. It was also an opportunity for us to gradually become acquainted. Within the first fifteen minutes of our journey I knew that everything would be fine throughout the duration of the project. Our personalities were well-matched. It was obvious that both men were smart, easy going, and had that perfect amount of self-deprecating humor to make any project entertaining.
There is something delightful about exploring all of the nooks and crannies in an abandoned building with others who also see it as an adventure too. The space adjacent to the theatre had been a bank and only the old safe remained as a silent reminder of its past grandeur. The space was now a windowless room of cracked concrete. Puddles suggested a recent rainstorm and the only remaining inhabitants were birds and vermin. We left the room feeling slightly deflated, barring the doors once again with a tree branch to prevent unwanted visitors in the theatre.
We went on to examine the staircase leading to the space above the auditorium ceiling. In all of my travels, I have crawled high above stages numerous times, balancing on planks above plaster ceilings. Every time, it was a treasure trove of artifacts left by the original workmen. Hidden treasures often included Prince Albert in a can, old newspapers, tools, and other abandoned artifacts long forgotten by various workers. This type of investigation is even more delightful when I accompanied by fellow explorers, each of us seeking clues from the past. Although short and uneventful, this quest formed a basic foundation for the entire project.
Returning to the stage floor, we slowly began the time-consuming process of matching up individual drops to create appropriate settings for various degrees. In each case, we attempted to backlight transparencies and stage each setting as completely as possible. I was limited in capabilities as many of the stage lights were missing numerous bulbs and the spotlights were not an option. I would soon realize that we had not viewed the entire Fort Scott collection during our August visit. There were many more than 80 drops, 94 to be exact. That was fifteen percent more scenery than I had anticipated for this project. In the big picture, all of my estimations were off and it would be a challenge to complete the project on time, let alone before Thanksgiving.
To be continued…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *