Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 12 – The Volcano Scene

Part 12: The Volcano Scene

 The 17th degree of the Scottish Rite can be one of the most exciting degree productions on a Masonic stage. Lighting flashes, thunder rumbles, the ground trembles, and a volcano explodes, toppling buildings in the foreground of the painted composition. A red plume of lava shoots into the air, while rivulets of lava stream down the mountainside and gradually spill into a lake. Slowly, the sky and water become a bright blood red. The first time I documented this scene was at the Winona Scottish Rite Theatre, were volunteers assisted in successfully presenting the scene.

This scene is often labeled “17th degree Vision” and could include a variety of scenic effects, all dependent on the amount of money the client was willing to invest. The Fort Scott scene was like Winona one and quite elaborate, using netting, transparencies, translucencies, and a variety of rigging mechanisms to lower painted panels on the front of the cut drop.

The staging relates to the breaking of the seven seals in the Book of Revelation. Cataclysmic events occur and a variety of painted visions are magically revealed in transparent sections of the composition. Fort Scott had five small drops for the visions. These small paintings were almost always the work of an inexperienced artist as it was a perfect opportunity for them to show their skills in drawing and figure painting. If it really was a horrific end product, it wouldn’t matter due to its placement on stage, plus the dim lighting would conceal most of the flaws.

I have often wondered whether these small scenic art projects were the work of the owner’s nephew. Over the years, I have stumbled across comments concerning this relation who was constantly given an opportunity to prove his artist ability and consistently failed. This might have been the perfect project to prevent him from ruining the remainder of the installation.

In my mind I imagine the following dialogue:

Artist 1: What are we going to have him paint this time? He doesn’t seem to be getting any better and he’s so slow!

Artist 2: Give him the Vision drops again.

Artist 1: But he can’t paint figures and it will take him forever!?!?

Artist 2: I know, but at least it will keep him busy and you can’t see much of the painting during the degree anyway.

Artist 1: Well, the art does represent the end of the world.

In the past, I have posted painted details of anatomical oddities from various Vision scene figures: breasts that were placed just below the collar bone, hair that defied gravity, hands that were unbelievably large, and faces with unnatural eye placement. Similarly, figures from the York Rite’s Sepulcher scene were often sporadic in terms of quality. I frequently post these details with my standard comment,” …and this is why drawing classes are important in scenic art training!”

The figures for Fort Scott were an interesting mixture of skill, but very inconsistent. I was reminded of the Vision scenes in Winona, Minnesota where one was “okay” and four were pretty awful. Although Thomas Moses was not a fabulous figure painter, I wondered if his onsite assistant was responsible for these paintings.

To be continued…

(Pictures will be uploaded tomorrow due to hotel internet service!)

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