Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 45 – It’s the Last Midnight

Part 45: It’s the Last Midnight

Grand Lodge tour group at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.

My access to the stage for restoration work was initially delayed from April 1 until May 9; the construction was woefully behind schedule due to excessive change orders. It was then further delayed until May 23. I would have just enough time to restore one scene and hang it for the opening on June 24.

These delays were problematic in securing individuals to restore the scenery. From the beginning of March, my restoration crew had remained on “temporary standby” the entire spring. Each week, I asked the CEO if we were still intending to restore drops for the June 24 opening. His standard response was “Certainly, ” but my biggest concern during this time was keeping a crew “on hold” without any guarantee of funds or a signed contract. This meant that they had to turn down other paying gigs and simply wait for me to call, “Start!”

Therefore, I altered the demographic of my crew, now targeting older theatre professionals and retirees who were interested in the experience and not necessarily the money. Then, if the entire project were postponed for months, they wouldn’t be financially devastated when they turned down other opportunities in lieu of this project. For the future, I would consider this a training ground for students. For now, I wanted a crew of competent adults who were familiar with historic scenery and could follow instructions. Although I had interviewed many individuals, I was hesitant to commit to students who needed secure summer work. I looked to my colleagues who were on sabbatical, those would not be teaching during May and June; those who had requested over the years to work with me on a restoration project.

On May 2, 2016, at 8:34am – three weeks before our restoration start date – I sent the following email to both the CEO and general director:

“Good morning. I hope you both enjoyed the weekend.
Two quick questions as we are three weeks away from starting the drop
1. Can I guarantee my restoration crew a start date of May 23?
2. Have the requested restoration supplies been ordered?
Have a great day!“

Three minutes later at 8:57 am, I received the following response from the CEO: “Before deciding on when to begin drop restoration, we need to discuss the timing and availability of space and the time needed to rig drops. I suggest that we meet at 10:30 am tomorrow to discuss.”

I was told the next day that the restoration was now postponed until after the opening of the building on June 24, 2016. The new start date for the crew was now Monday, June 27.

Oh no, not again. I sent out an email to my crew “I am so sorry for the continued delays, thank you for your patience with our endeavor. The restoration work has now been postponed until June 27. I’ll keep you updated and confirm that date in early June.” As this was now after the opening, I created a new timeline for the first phase of restoration

By the beginning of June, all of restoration materials had been delivered and new timelines constructed for the first phase from June 27 through September 15. The general director had no intention of renting the theatre space that entire summer. On June 8, I emailed the CEO: “Today, I am confirming with the restoration crew that the project commences on June 27. Please verify this start date.”

The CEO immediately responded, “Work on the drops cannot commence on June 27. Construction delays due to untimely material deliveries and other factors make it necessary to delay the commencement of any work. Once a definite schedule is presented by the builders it will be possible to decide on a commencement date.”

“I completely understand and will release the crew from their obligation,” I emailed, writing, “As I explained to you during December 2015, I believe that some of the ready labor hires did not put the battens in the correct storage slots. The construction delay allows me ample time to identify and make sure that we will be able to locate and pull the necessary items for restoration quickly. Please verify that I will have access to the storage unit on June 27 as I know we all will be tired after the opening. See you on June 24 as I have everything prepped to staff the theatre for the grand opening and answer visitor questions! Have a great week!”

He confirmed that my access to the storage unit on June 27 and the music from “Into the Woods” began playing in the back of my mind:

“It’s the last midnight
It’s the last wish
It’s the last midnight
Soon it will be boom

Told a little lie
Stole a little gold
Broke a little vow
Did you?”

To be continued…

State of the stage during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.
State of the stage during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.


State of the rigging during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.
State of the rigging during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.


State of the auditorium during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016.
State of the auditorium during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016. View of the balcony.
State of the auditorium during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016. Vertical panels were initially to have murals.
State of the auditorium during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016. Ceiling was initially to have constellations in blue sky areas.
State of the auditorium during Grand Lodge event at Minnesota Masonic Heritage center on April 7, 2016. View from the balcony.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 44

Part 44: Quick, Send in the Clowns

On Tuesday, March 29, the CEO requested that I create a timeline and deliverables for the entire Fort Scott scenery restoration. Again, this was so that riggers could estimate the cost of hanging the entire scenery collection. It is crucial to note, that during the time of this request I was only six days into starting the painting of the lodge room mural. Remember, this mural was to have been completed by March 1 to successfully move onto the scenery restoration.

On March 30 at 8:26AM, I emailed the restoration timeline to the CEO and general director. I had divided the project into ten phases over a two-year period. This was standard for any Scottish Rite scenery restoration and by this point in my career I had restored over 500 historic drops. Each phase of the restoration included the restoration of approximately nine drops, identifying the specific transportation, restoration, and hanging dates. The table of contents divided the project into succinct drop transportation crew dates, restoration crew dates, rigging crew dates, subsequent timelines, and deliverables during each project phase.

However, instead of starting on April 1 and restoring 19 drops, I was now planning to restore only 9 backdrops, starting on May 9, 2016. Restored scenes for opening day would include the Egyptian Interior, Darius Palace, the Woods, the Cathedral, the Treasure Chamber, the Classical Landscape, the DeMolay Mausoleum, the FHC Constellation, and the INRI Landscape.

The remaining nine phases for the scenery restoration after the opening would be:
Monday, July 6, 2016 – Tuesday, July 26, 2016 and Thursday, August 4 – Friday, August 19
Monday, October 3, 2016 – Friday, November 11, 2016
Monday, January 2, 2017 – Friday, February 24, 2017
Monday, March 6, 2017 – Friday, April 28, 2017
Monday, May 8, 2017 – Friday, June 16, 2017
Monday, August 7, 2017 – Friday, September 29, 2017
Monday, November 13, 2017 – Friday, January 5, 2018
Monday, February 19, 2018 – Friday, April 13, 2018
Monday, May 21, 2018 – Friday, July 13, 2018

Similarly, the schedule for hanging the remaining restored scenery after the opening were:
Monday, August 22, 2016 – Friday, August 26, 2016
Monday, November 14, 2016 – Friday, November 18, 2016
Monday, February 27, 2017 – Friday, March 3, 2017
Monday, May 1, 2017 – Friday, May 5, 2017
Monday, June 19, 2017 – Friday, June 23, 2017
Monday, October 2, 2017 – Friday, October 6, 2017
Monday, January 8, 2018 – Friday, January 12, 2018
Monday, April 16, 2019 – Friday, April 20, 2018
Monday, July 23, 2018 – Friday, July 27, 2018

Additionally, having me on staff dropped the overall restoration cost by 75%. Otherwise the restoration could have quickly become cost-prohibitive for the center.

By 1:46PM March 30, the general director emailed me his response to the restoration timeline:

“The proposed schedule is highly problematic from an operational standpoint. It leaves only 11 weeks each in 2016 and 2017. And only nine weeks in the first seven months of 2018 for programming of any sort. We are marketing the space for community rentals and weddings, and already have substantial revenue opportunities. I really can’t shut the place down for the first two years to accommodate scenery restoration. We could work around a few weeks every several months, but not a total blackout including all weekends. I understood the decision on Tuesday to be that Wendy would contact rigging providers for a block price to hang the 74 indicated drops with the understanding that they would be coming out seven times to hang not fewer than 10 pieces at a time. I am extremely reluctant to commit to this specific schedule.”

Thirty minutes later, the CEO reinforced this sentiment writing, “I agree. We can’t have the facility tied up for such extensive blocks of time. Another solution must be found.”

By this stage, approximately $125,000 had been spent to purchase, remove, transport, and store the scenery collection. There were also all of the travel expenses for the initial evaluation in August, my expenses while working three weeks on site, and all of my time as a salaried employee working on this endeavor. This amount did not even take into consideration the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to custom-design a theatre space to display an historical Scottish Rite scenery collection.

From the beginning of my involvement with this project, I had been crystal clear about the time commitment needed to restore scenery, the limitations of onsite restoration, and the overall expenses. The CEO had always responded, “Not a problem” – until now.

So my response to both of their emails was simply, “Please advise me on how you would like me to proceed. Should we meet to discuss alternatives?”

The next morning we met in the CEO’s office. He said, “So what should we do?” I explained that I had solved the entire dilemma and it would not interfere with any potential income. The CEO raised his eyebrows and said, “Tell me your plan.” I explained that each Friday I would ask the general director if the stage was available for the coming week. If it was, I would then contact my local rigger to see if he could assemble a crew. If he could, I would then assemble my own restoration crew. If both a rigging crew and a restoration crew were available, we would restore a drop. This would involve transporting it on Monday, restoring the drop from Tuesday through Thursday, and hanging the drop on Friday. It would be more expensive in the long-term, but it would never interfere with any anticipated rental income or unnecessarily tie up the space. “Besides,” I added, “I’m on staff, so I can drop everything at a moment’s notice.”

“But what will you be doing ‘on staff’ when you’re not restoring any scenery?” queried the general director.

“All of the duties that are listed in my job description as Curatorial Director, plus painting the remaining lodge room murals,” I answered.

There was an awkward silence, and I thought of a line from Sondheim in “A Little Night Music:”

“And where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns
Don’t bother…
They’re here.”

To be continued…

Fort Scott Jacques DeMolay Drop.
Fort Scott Cathedral Drop
Fort Scott Classical Landscape Drop
Fort Scott Constellation Drop
Fort Scott Egyptian Drop
Fort Scott INRI Landscape Drop
Fort Scott Treasure Chamber Drop
Fort Scott Wood Drop
Fort Scott Darius Palace Drop

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 43

Part 43: Art is Never Finished, Only Abandoned

During March, 2016, I was given another directive from the CEO: he wanted me to identify a theatrical rigger to bid on the hanging of all the scenery. Although it might take up to five years, he was hoping to get a price break on the job in its entirety. I had initially encountered his approach of “bulk purchasing” when I was seeking a portrait artist to depict the various individuals for whom the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center spaces were named, such as Charlie Nelson for the Nelson Library.

The CEO had directed me to find portrait painter, and I stumbled across Joe Burns‘ website and a few newspaper articles on his neighborhood portraits. Here is a link to his work: (https://www.pinterest.com/joeburnsartist/). I immediately liked and admired Burns for both his fine art technique and community involvement. He had an interesting contemporary interpretive style, but some of his paintings harkened to an older tradition. Upon meeting and interviewing Burns, I realized that we had both received training from the Atelier during the early 1990s (Richard Lack’s studio in Minneapolis).

After contracting Burns for all of the portraits, the CEO wanted an additional painting – one depicting the entire facility. He asked me what I thought the price should be and I again explained Burn’s fine art formula based on the square inch. He looked surprised, and said, “Well, I have certainly paid him enough money and should get a steep discount on this next work.”

I am always fascinated when people believe that the price of art should be reduced if you order numerous paintings. They are attempting to parallel a unique artistic creation with office supplies from Staples. Does the discount apply after buying 5 or 25 items?

It is at times like these that I step back and reflect on past Masonic endeavors, when their lodge rooms included murals, beautifully carved woodwork, hand-painted tracing boards and celestial skies. Were the members looking for the cheapest version at the time? No, they were looking for something that would honor the spirit of Freemasonry.

At what point does any organization start to look for the cheapest artifact and stop caring about the artistry? Is it at the same time that quantity surpasses quality?

So, here we were less than three months before the opening and trying to hang irreplaceable artworks as cheaply as possible. I was reminded of the general director hiring a Ready Labor crew to move these same artworks into storage.

We needed the individuals who handled the Thomas G. Moses scenic art collection to do it with care for the inherent fragile state of a ninety-year-old artwork and understanding of its cultural value. We could not afford to hire “cheap labor” who didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing. This decision could ultimately destroy the entire acquisition.

The rigger, or rigging company, needed to understand that the drops were not mere backgrounds for a degree production; they were artworks that depicted a shifting aesthetic in both popular art and stage design. An artistic heritage of national significance. The collection was a small part of a much larger picture that identified a shared material culture between the general public and the Fraternity. I needed Paul Sannerud, Brandon Fischer, Ty Prewitt (BellaTex, LLC), Dan Culhane, or Rick Boychuk to be involved in this project as I KNEW that they each understood and appreciated the collection. They also understood that so much of this history had been lost over the decades; painted scenery is ephemeral in nature. Similarly, there are Masonic scholars across the country who are watching their own history being abandoned.

We all understand what is happening nationwide and we are scrambling to preserve something – anything – for future generations.

Had I saved an internationally significant collection only to watch it be destroyed during the installation? I hoped not, as it would truly be a loss of epic proportions.

To be continued…

Joe Burns holding a preliminary painting for the final portrait.
Joe Burns with his preliminary study and final portrait.
Preliminary study, small-scale design, and final portrait by Joe Burns.
Joe Burns and I on June 24, 2016 – opening day for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 42

Part 42: Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History

The CEO was insistent that my shipping inventory for the St. Paul Masonic Library should have been flawless; any mistakes made during the two-week span allotted to record 10,000 items was unacceptable. This was part of his continued argument to shelve unprocessed and unidentifiable books in the Nelson Library. This current course of action did not bode well for the future Fort Scott scenery collection. Furthermore, the CEO ‘s statements repeatedly devalued the significance of our acquisition, explaining that it contained nothing unique; many of the texts were already available as scans.

“But we have many first edition and signed copies, as well as books with important inscriptions,” I explained. “Many of these signatures include famous individuals, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Albert Mackey, Albert Pike, A. E. Ames, A.T.C. Pierson, and Manly P. Hall.”

Unmoved by my logic, he was adamant that we should not have to open up every single book in order to process the entire collection, especially if there were duplicates. “For example,” he continued “We don’t need more than one set Mackey Encyclopedias do we? We only need to keep the one that is in the best condition, so why waste time on examining the others?”

“We might want to keep MORE than that one set if there is a signed set by the author who gifted it to a Grand Master of Minnesota,” I persisted. “That is just one of many reasons why we need to actually open every book and to determine which ones we keep!” I further explained that many old books contained hidden artifacts like Masonic petitions, personal letters, or even money. This was the main reason to actually open up and LOOK in each book. Unfortunately, my arguments fell on deaf ears.

Stafford King (1893-1970) was born in Fair Haven, MN to Cyrus Murdock King and Minnie King (née Cooper). His parents were the descendants of early settlers of the state and had been involved in local causes and politics in and around Itasca County, Minnesota. He was raised on the family homestead in Itasca County and attended school in Deer River, MN, later attending the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul College of Law. During WWI, he served in the army, achieving the rank of first lieutenant. After the war he worked in a variety of state and local government positions and also became active with the American Legion and the Scottish Rite. In 1930 he won election as Minnesota State Auditor, a position he held for ten terms. During WWII, he left his position to serve as a first lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He left his personal library to the Valley of St. Paul upon his death in 1970, including Ridpath’s “History of the World,” inscribed by his parents in 1906 to their only child at the age of 13. Each volume had lovely inscription for Stafford.
Title page from Ridpath’s “History of the World,” owned by Stafford King (1893-1970) with wonderful inscriptions about the human struggle.
Transcription: “To Our Only Child Stafford King on Christmas Day 1906, We give you these volumes as a little expression of our great love for him, Cyrus M. and Minnie King.” “Read well and thoughtfully for in these volumes you can come to know the good, the wise, the great of every time and clime – know them, think from their lines, act as they would in your time, and become your God’s child, your country’s son, a protector of home, a defender of your fellow man, a guardian of Human Rights.” Great advise from a family well ensconced in the Fraternity and civic duties. You can see why Freemasonry would later appeal to him and his political involvement.

This was my first ethical struggle with what was happening to incoming acquisitions at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. As I sought the advice of fraternal scholars and librarians nationwide, they all expressed disbelief that anyone would request to NOT process an acquisition prior to placing it on display. Then many scholars suggested another cause for his mandate: If you don’t know really know what you have, you’ll never know what goes missing. My colleagues bluntly explained that as I held all of the institutional memory associated with this acquisition, my job was in peril. I would be systematically discredited and then dismissed, effectively silencing me.

Regardless of their warnings, I focused on the final endgame – safeguarding this collection and other acquisitions for future scholars. Using a new strategy, I explained that the boxes holding the St. Paul library acquisition had been hastily piled in the basement of the processing center when they were removed from record storage three months prior. I had not been able to put the boxes on the main floor due to their sheer weight and my back injury, expressing concern about the current storage environment and potential for damage. A leak in spring could destroy the entire collection. This approach worked, and the CEO approved a temporary hire for four weeks to solely get the books off of the floor. I then immediately requested that we hire the main librarian at the Minneapolis Scottish Rite, Peter Tomlinson, as he was familiar with historic publications and available immediately.

This picture is after Peter had unpacked dozens of boxes and organized the remaining ones into specific sections. This organization had been impossible at first due to the sheer volume of boxes in the space. When the boxes from the record storage were unloaded from the original pallets on the delivery truck, they were randomly placed in the basement and stacked over five boxes high – causing the bottom boxes to collapse from the excessive weight.
View into the second book room in the basement – the bomb shelter. Peter and I decided that the oldest and rarest books went here, including the personal collections of Past Grand Masters and notable Masons, such as A.T.C. Pierson and A.E. Ames.
View from second book room into main room of basement. This smaller second room held the most significant books in the collection, such as signed copies and the personal libraries of Past Grand Masters in Minnesota.

My ethics required me to do everything possible to honor my word with the Valley of St. Paul, even if this was not the case of my employer. I was determined to process the library prior to placing the books on the Nelson Library shelves. Therefore, I would seek highly skilled volunteers after Peter’s four-week employment ended, specifically assistance of experienced archivists, specifically retired university professors. This would cost the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center NOTHING and I would still feel that I kept my word.

On January 29, 2015, I emailed an update to the CEO and general director, detailing our progress on the library collection. The document noted that in just four weeks, Peter had successfully assembled 24 metal shelving units and updated information in the original shipping excel spreadsheet as boxes were unpacked. This spreadsheet could then be inputted into a future software system. Peter also took digital images of each item that he handled, entering the necessary information pertaining to the publisher, previous ownership, and signature editions. They would also have photographic documentation of the collection to pair with the information in the excel spreadsheet.

By February 1, 2016, there only remained 450 religious books in 21 boxes, 40 classical books in 2 boxes, 75 philosophical works in 3 boxes, and the dozens of boxes containing Masonic periodicals, as well as various Proceedings from a variety of fraternal organizations. Realistically, only the bound periodicals would ever be placed on library shelves due to the fragility of unbound periodicals. Although we couldn’t assign local identifiers without appropriate software, we initially processed enough books to place on the Nelson Library shelves for opening day. There remained ample time to complete the collection prior to June 24, 2016.

This is the state of the library when Jean Montgomery took over the project during spring 2016.

Among the many individuals to help during the spring of 2016, professors emeritus Jean Montgomery and Dr. Larry Hill spent months unpacking the remaining boxes and organizing the contents. Jean is an individual with many attributes, including leading the archival documentation for the U of MN Theatre Department and Centennial Showboat, as well serving multiple roles at USITT. She was also the editor for my dissertation! Dr. Hill is a theatre historian, past Scottish Rite theatre research colleague of Lance Brockman, contributor to “Heredom,” contributor to the “Theatre of the Fraternity” exhibit catalogue, and also served in multiple roles for USITT. There are many more qualifications for each, much to numerous to mention. They each understood my plight and wanted to ensure this collection to remain intact for future scholars. Furthermore, Dr. Hill’s brother, Dave M. Hill, was Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden in Michigan. All of my volunteers had had decades of experience creating archival databases and cataloguing publications; they were also familiar with the Fraternity.

I continued to work on the lodge room mural and restoration preparation upstairs while my volunteer crew processed the books downstairs.

To be continued…

Once Jean was done, she started to weed out duplicates and do some preliminary packing for transport.
The rarest books were in the smaller room, located off of the main room. The signed memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and books sent to A.T.C. Pierson by Albert Pike were some of the amazing publications found in the St. Paul Masonic library collection.
The St. Paul Valley librarian and historian, Joe Ryder, also donated his entire collection, including an anti-Masonic pamphlet from WWII, printed by the Nazi party. It was pulled to go on display in the Ladd museum exhibit.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 41

Part 41: Bait and Switch

After my return from DC to secure Masonic scholars for the museum team, I completed the St. Paul library acquisition. By the end of February 2015, the books were packed and ready for transport to both record storage (250 boxes) to the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum (25 boxes). I then began to create the necessary timelines and labor requirements to process this collection. This, however, was a very small part of a much larger administrative project. The CEO also directed me to anticipate the staffing requirements and labor expenses for the museum, library, and theatre spaces to plan for the upcoming year’s budget and subsequent opening of the facility.

For the new library acquisition, I requested four individuals to help process the 10,000-item collection. In assembling the proposal, I met with Theresa Norman, the part-time Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum curator. Norman worked only 8 hours each week as she already had a full-time job as a curator elsewhere. Like me, she was in desperate need of assistants beyond her own two sole octogenarian volunteers.

I suggested that it was possible for us to share the talents of a single group of assistants/interns, depending on the museum and library project timelines. That way, we could immediately start the hiring process for them to come on board to start processing the opening exhibit artifacts for the Ladd Museum. I was in the midst of the thematic layout for the six-gallery museum, realizing that this project would take precedence over the library as its impending deadline was June 1, 2015.

The museum team needed a year for artifact conservation and exhibit construction. However, it was anticipated that there would be a point when I could set up several interns to process the St. Paul Masonic collection – hopefully in summer after the museum exhibit was finalized. Throughout the spring and summer of 2015, I had to repeatedly explain that it would take at least a full year to process the library collection and assign local identification numbers for each item.

As it was a Masonic library, we would also use a slightly different labeling system based on Boyden’s classifications. It was not until September of 2015 that I was given the “go-ahead” to remove the collection from record storage, hire one intern, and start processing the collection. By this time, I had identified a possible place to process the St. Paul Masonic Library – the old residential cottage (5 bedroom two-story house over looking the river) that remained on the Minnesota Masonic Home grounds. I had encountered this space when Steve Johnson and I identified it as a possible location to film A. E. Ames footage for various informational displays at the future museum.

5-bedroom, two-story residential house at Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington, Minnesota, that was selected as the location to process the St. Paul Masonic Library. This also become my “office house.”

During that same month, the CEO recommended Mark Anderson for the position of library intern so that we could start processing the books immediately. I ordered metal shelving units and some folding tables to set up the library-processing center. One of the rooms would also serve as my on site office. No need to spend money on space rental and I was a stone’s throw away from the Minnesota Masonic Charities and the Grand Lodge offices! The nine pallets of books were removed from record storage and transported to the basement of my “office house” in mid-September 2015. I was now only waiting for my library intern to schedule his TB test, a requirement as a Minnesota Masonic Home employee.

I was also deeply ensconced in a third library project directed by the CEO; researching identifying, and selecting an appropriate library software system for the Nelson library.   I sought advice from curators and librarians across the country at a variety of Masonic museums and libraries, including Adam Kendall at California’s H. W. Coil Library, Mark Tabbert at the George Washington Masonic Memorial,  Jeff Croteau at the National Heritage Museum, Joan Sansbury at the House of the Temple,  Heather Calloway at Washington College, and many others.

I was narrowing down my selection when we began negotiations for the purchase and removal of the Fort Scott scenery collection. I soon realized that the library processing might have to be placed on hold until after my three-week absence in Fort Scott, Kansas during November 2015 when we removed the scenery. There was no one else to oversee any of my projects while I was gone and my intern had yet to finalize his paperwork.

Upon my return from Fort Scott, however, I learned that the entire scope for the library acquisition had changed during my absence. In mid-December 2015, the CEO and general director informed me that the books would no longer be processed and were to be placed onto the shelves for the opening without any identification. I was stunned. We had promised the Valley of St. Paul that the books would be thoroughly processed, and that they would be placed in climate-controlled storage. As part of our continued discussions with the Valley of St. Paul, we assured a better environment for the books in a dedicated and secure setting.

Furthermore, the CEO explained that we no longer needed any library software system, putting off all processing until after the facility opened. I tried to explain that this would quadruple the anticipated future workload and timelines. I was numb. After all, I had personally given the Valley secretary my word that the books would be carefully preserved for future generations as that is what I was told would happen.

What was the point of having a room full of unlabeled books? This would make the entire library unusable and it could no longer be considered a research facility.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 40

Part 40: A Mercenary Mission

It was February 2015 and the search for a scenery acquisition was just beginning. I was in the middle of working on the St. Paul library acquisition, when I was ordered to travel to Washington, D.C. for a short three-day trip. The purpose of the trip was to hire a nationally recognized Masonic scholar who could write the text panels and object labels for the six galleries in the Ladd Museum. There was simply not enough time in the day for me to take on this task too. I had suggested that we hire another professional for that specific reason. It was early 2015 and there were too much for one person to manage.

The CEO had directed me to request and schedule a series of meetings there to make the necessary introductions and pitch the project in its entirety. He wanted to hire either Art De Hoyos or Brent Morris. While we were in the DC area, we would also examine Masonic museums, libraries, and architectural ornamentation at both the House of the Temple and the George Washington Masonic Memorial Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. Sean Graystone would host the DC tour while Mark Tabbert would host the Alexandria tour.

House of the Temple, Washington, D.C. lobby.
House of the Temple, Washington, D.C. library.
House of the Temple, Washington, D.C. museum display case.
Tour by Mark Tabbert at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. February 2015.

Regardless of my busy schedule, I jumped at the chance to get at least one more Masonic scholar on board. I was being placed in charge of too many projects and needed someone who could quickly create the necessary text and timelines concerning the history of the Fraternity and the origins of speculative masonry for the Museum. I knew that an exhibit required an extensive amount of research and fact checking prior to finalizing the text panels and object labels. I needed at least one professional to guarantee that we would meet the necessary text deadlines, thus ensuring the museum’s overall success for the opening.

Lunch in DC with Sean Graystone and Art De Hoyos to discuss the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center museum exhibit. February 2015.
Dinner in DC with Brent Morris to discuss the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center museum exhibit.February 2015.

Besides the obvious business, I was excited to see my friends again and update them on various projects. The previous fall we had all participated at the Scottish Rite Research Society Symposium (October 4, 2014), held in the new Chicago Scottish Rite building (Bloomingdale, Illinois). It had been delightful to reconnect with everyone after a few years apart, sharing my current research and upcoming restoration projects. I always enjoyed the battle of wits and discussion of Masonic theories.

Valley of Chicago Scottish Rite Cathedral built in Bloomingdale, Illinois. This was the site for the Scottish Rite Research Symposium, held in conjunction with the SRRS board meeting. October 2014.
Valley of Chicago Scottish Rite Cathedral built in Bloomingdale, Illinois. Beautiful onsite bar!
Dinner after the 2014 Scottish Rite Research Symposium with Sean Graystone and Art De Hoyos.

The DC trip was delightful, but I knew that no one was not on board yet. During our various meetings, I sensed their concern and hesitation to join the project. They knew that we were trying to accomplish a difficult feat in an incredibly compressed timeline. Hesitant to jump on board our big shiny ship, the whole endeavor could quickly sink like the Titanic. I had the same feeling; unless we stayed on task and hit every single deadline proposed by the museum team that the exhibit would not be ready for opening day.

On the morning of our departure for home, I asked Brent to pick me up from our hotel at 6:00AM on his way into work. I wanted to discuss a few details and make a personal plea. Critical to the success of this project was having someone else on board as it could not end up like the library acquisition – just me and my parents.

I met separately with each scholar that morning, proposing the same thing – that they BOTH work on the project. We could fly them out to Minnesota so that they could personally examine my preliminary selection of exhibit artifacts and thematic layout for the six galleries. They would also meet the museum team, discuss the necessary timelines, and make their final decision whether to participate after the trip.

Thankfully, both Art and Brent agreed to this proposal. I had a huge feeling of relief as I descended the front steps at the Temple and entered the waiting airport shuttle. On our way to the airport, I described my tentative plan to the CEO and their hesitancy to join our endeavor. He agreed that the DC trip was a success and he would start the paperwork for their travels upon his return.

House of the Temple, Washington, D.C. front steps.

It was during the second leg of our return flight to MSP, that I would encounter my first real sense of doubt about the general director’s qualifications. Sitting next to him in the plane, he looked at me an asked, “Why would anyone ever become a Mason?” I froze.

This caught me off guard and I wondered whether I was being set up for a little joke. His expression didn’t change and he continued to slightly smile at me. It was no joke. “Nope,” I thought, “I am not even entering this conversation.” I was not going to play this game and I quietly whispered that he better ask my husband Andrew. After all, my husband had joined the Fraternity in Cambridge just a few years ago. He still carried that genuine enthusiasm and glow that almost every newly raised Mason emanates from his core.

The general director’s question, however, greatly concerned me. I couldn’t possibly comprehend why anyone working at a Masonic Heritage Center would EVER ask that question. For the record, the general director is a Mason.

As I turned away and opened a book, I stared at the page for quite a while, listening to the hum of the plane. I began to ponder my traveling companion and his background. What strengths did he bring to the project? I honestly couldn’t think of any. Sure, he was friendly, but was there a hidden skill that I had yet to encounter? The only thing that I really knew about him was that he had known the CEO for years and returned to his home in Duluth every weekend.

To be continued…

One of many pictures that I took for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center Museum design team. This example was from the George Washington Masonic Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. It became the inspirational color theme for the exhibit designer.
Railing detail at the George Washington Masonic Memorial.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 39

Part 39: Libraries: the Medicine Chest of the Soul

What follows concurrently occurred during the search and identification of a scenery collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center’s theater. From August 2014 through May 2015, I was hired as the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center (MMHC) historical consultant. It was not until June 1, 2016 that I accepted the position of Curatorial Director at a 40% pay reduction with a job description that could not truly commence until after the facility opened on June 24, 2016.

As historical consultant, I was placed in charge of the first MMHC acquisition during the beginning of 2015 – a book collection that would form the basis for the Charles W. Nelson Library. Throughout the fall of 2014 we aggressively sought a substantial book collection as the current holdings were extremely limited; primarily including a smattering of handwritten records in the Grand Lodge Library and in the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum.

The new library was to share almost one-third of the entire space with the Col. James B. Ladd Museum and subsequently demanded many more books to fill the space. The Nelson library was to be a grand setting, full of map tables and computers, separated from the museum by a wall of glass and French doors for security reasons. The CEO had explained that this would be a premiere research library, drawing Masonic scholars from across the nation to examine its rare contents.

By December 2015, the book collection at the Masonic Center in St. Paul, Minnesota had repeatedly popped up as a potential acquisition at a variety of meetings. This had once been the combined library of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and the St. Paul Scottish Rite. When the Grand Lodge moved from the Masonic Center in St. Paul to their current location at the Minnesota Masonic Home (now adjacent to MMHC) in Bloomington, Minnesota, many of the books that were left on site transferred ownership to the Valley of St. Paul.

I believed this to be an ideal acquisition, having completed much of my doctoral research using books from this collection. Charlie Nelson, namesake for the Nelson Library and founder of MMHSM, had personally given me a personal tour of the library, explaining that many Masons failed to understand the significance of the collection and the range of extraordinary publications. Nelson was also the one to fully explain the York Rite degrees and visual requirements when I worked as Lance Brockman’s assistant during his touring museum exhibit, “Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite, 1896-1929” (1996).

In the St. Paul library I enthusiastically read the Supreme Council transactions for both the Northern and Southern jurisdictions, identifying some of the earliest legislation surrounding the theatrical interpretations of the indispensable degrees. I would later present most of my findings as the 2003 guest speaker for the Scottish Rite Research Society meeting during a Biennial Session, publish my findings in “Heredom” (vol. 12, pp. 141-62), and then incorporate this research into my doctoral dissertation, “Scenic Sifts upon the Scottish Rite Stage: Designing for Masonic Theatre, 1859-1926.”

I returned to the St. Paul Masonic library in January 2015 to survey the St. Paul acquisition, however, there were a series of obstacles in my path. Although I had requested a minimum of a month to carefully inventory and organize the books prior to packing and shipping, I was allotted just two weeks to inventory the collection while sharing the space with the renter. Then, I would have two weeks where I would organize and pack the boxes as the sole occupant of the space. This was a nightmare scenario as this was not the only project that I was working on at this time. During February 2015, I put in a total of 254 hours as the historical consultant – with 177 hours solely designated to the library acquisition.

The St. Paul Scottish Rite Library at the Masonic Center during my initial visit to survey the space during January 2015.
The St. Paul Scottish Rite Library at the Masonic Center during my initial visit to survey the space during January 2015.


The St. Paul Scottish Rite Library at the Masonic Center during my initial visit to survey the space during January 2015.

Because a current renter in the St. Paul Masonic Center used the library space for meetings, I had to accommodate their schedule. I would arrive in the space, quickly jot down information, and then enter the data once returning home to my office in Cambridge, Minnesota – a 60-mile one way commute. I immediately recognized the need for help, yet had no other assistants to help with this 10,000 item acquisition. Who do you call for help when there is no one else to call? You call your parents. They showed up daily, recording the titles, authors, and publication dates in their notebooks. I would then drive home and transfer the handwritten data to an excel spreadsheet.

My father, Ray Waszut, who initially measured and drew plates of each bookcase as they were were going to be repurposed in the Nelson library. Then, he began recording the title, author and publication date in his notebook for me to transcribe once home.
My mother, Betty Lou Waszut, recording title, author and publication date in her notebook for me to transcribe once home.
My parents, Ray Waszut and Betty Lou Kohnen Waszut, assembling boxes. At first, I was given the leftover boxes from the general director’s recent move from Duluth, MN to Northfield, MN. Unfortunately, many of these boxes were not book boxes, and proved to only work for the portfolio sized publications

My inventory lists were intended to understand the scope of the collection, organize the contents, and identify individual boxes to remove from storage when the subsequent processing would commence. The majority of the collection would be placed in record storage at an offsite location – all 250 boxes. There were approximately 25 boxes, however, that held the most important manuscripts and these would be hand-carried over to the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum rooms in the Minnesota Masonic Home basement.

Looking at St Paul Masonic Library books from the 25 boxes that were hand carried over to the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum at the Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington, MN. Some were considered for inclusion in the Ladd Museum exhibit. The other 250 boxes were placed into record storage, awaiting processing.

To be continued…

Starting to organize and pack up the St. Paul Masonic Library.
Packing 10,000 items from the St. Paul Masonic Library in 275 boxes for transfer to the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center storage facilities (one off site and one in the basement of the Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington)!
Packing 10,000 items from the St. Paul Masonic Library in 275 boxes for transfer to the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center storage facilities (one off site and one in the basement of the Minnesota Masonic Home in Bloomington)!
Preliminary organization of the 275 boxes holding the entire contents of the St. Paul Masonic library for transport to for the eventual Charles W. Nelson Museum at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.
Behold the handiwork of one woman and her octogenarian parents!
Behold the handiwork of one woman and her octogenarian parents!

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 38

Part 38: A Sea of Troubles

 “To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles…”

I soon realized that I was constantly taking arms against a “sea of troubles” as the Curatorial Director at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.

The weekly OAC (Owner/Architect/Contractor) meeting had continued after I asked about the smoke door placement. Throughout the remainder of the meeting, I thought back to many conversations with the CEO since my return from Fort Scott.

One conversation kept popping into my mind. It had been mid-December 2015 and I was sitting with the Minnesota Masonic Charities staff for a short coffee break near the Minnesota Masonic Home café. This was unusual, as I was often too busy to attend these daily gatherings. While chatting about my finds in Fort Scott with the CEO, I inquired whether he had any preferred order for scenery restoration. I was getting ready to start compiling the first timeline.

He immediately responded that he had absolutely no preference – I could choose the restoration order. The CEO then elaborated that he had always been in front of the scenery – performing – not really caring about what happened behind him. At the time, I simply thought, “oh…actor” and made a mental note. So, the occasional “us and them” struggle between performers and technicians carried over to fraternal stages too. This production dynamic peaked my interest from a historical standpoint, thinking of Joe Jefferson and other nineteenth century actors who were deeply involved in all aspects of a production. When did it start on fraternal stages? Had the “us and them” dynamic always been there?

Now the CEO’s fraternal performances and degree production experiences were all at the Scottish Rite in Duluth, Minnesota. I was extremely familiar with this 1904 scenery collection, as I had provided a lot of information to the historical architect Rolf Anderson for his written nomination of the building for the National Register of Historic Places. Rolf and I spoke extensively about the significance of the scenery collection and how the Winona Masonic Center was placed on the National Register primarily for the historical significance of its scenery (the work of Lance Brockman and Charlie Nelson).

Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. Photo by Rolf Anderson, 2014.
Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. Photo by Rolf Anderson, 2014.
View of Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. View of auditorium from stage with wood set. Photo by W. Waszut-Barrett, 2014.
View of Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. View of auditorium from stage with wood set. Photo by W. Waszut-Barrett, 2014.

I had also conducted a variety of theatre tours at the Duluth Scottish Rite over the years, including one for theatre practitioners of the Northern Boundary Section, USITT (United States Institute of Technical Theatre), in 2012 and the Ladies Tour at the Minnesota Grand Lodge in 2014. It was an outstanding scenery collection!

View of Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. View of tour for Northern Boundary Section fall conference (2012).
View of Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. View of tour for Northern Boundary Section fall conference (2012).
View of Duluth, Minnesota, Scottish Rite. View of ladies tour for Minnesota Grand Lodge (2014).

While reflecting on the CEO’s comments, I considered his lack of appreciation for any historical scenery. I had initially noticed it during the August evaluation at Fort Scott as his interest waned as the fourth scene was lowered. I had encountered the “It’s just backing, not art” attitude before in many Scottish Rite Valleys across the country. These were frequently the same individuals who viewed Masonic libraries as “just books waiting to be scanned.” I fell in love with the Fraternity because of its reverence for history, ritual, and instruction. While it is no surprise that not everyone uniformly shares this belief, the Fraternity is so much more than charitable donations. There are those who deeply understand that Scottish Rite theaters are an extension of a unique cultural heritage; one to be studied and preserved, like the books, and other Masonic artifacts.

In addition to the CEO’s “just scenery” attitude was the general director’s comments about how “his” theatre would be staffed by volunteers. I had repeatedly argued for at least ONE theatre professional – even a part-time theatre technician. SOMEONE had to know how to operate and maintain the equipment. At the time, I had been primarily concerned about the lighting, rigging, and sound systems. I hoped that the historical scenery collection would ultimately fall under my control as a recent museum acquisition.

Both the CEO and general director’s comments made me think of most state-of-the art performing arts centers built all across Minnesota. It all starts with a “big vision,” followed by a small plan to run the facility. These performance venues cost millions of dollars to construct, but are never adequately staffed after the opening. It results in the gradual deterioration of both lighting and sound systems as high school students or volunteers run the facility. No one knows how to run, maintain, or repair the equipment. How shortsighted, and it was apparent that we were going to repeat this process here too.

This is a tried and true formula for failure. There were massive Scottish Rite buildings across the country with amazing artifact collections and almost all are collapsing. Why? There is no one to staff the buildings beyond a team of volunteers. The Masons of Minnesota find themselves spending tens of millions of dollars to create a state-of-the-art facility, staffed primarily with volunteer labor. What was the REAL endgame? Was this all a charade?

To be continued…

Duluth Scottish Rite, Treasure Chamber (15th degree).
Duluth Scottish Rite, King Solomon’s Throne Room (6th and 9th degrees).
Duluth Scottish Rite, wood set.
Duluth Scottish Rite, cave scene for 9th degree). Photo by Rolf Anderson, 2014.
Last scene lowered when I was guest speaker for ladies tour at Minnesota Grand Lodge (2014).

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 37

Part 37: Water, Water Everywhere

Water damage is always the antagonist in historic scenery stories.


Water damage in Winona, Minnesota, in the Scottish Rite theatre.

Scenery painted with dry pigment and diluted hide glue, or “size,” is water-based and non-permanent. The colors reactivate with the introduction of water, being displaced upon the surface as the water carries pigments elsewhere on the fabric. Highly concentrated areas of color are re-deposited along the edges of water damage and are difficult to conceal. They need to be sealed and then touched up. In some cases all of the color is removed, reverting sections of the composition to raw fabric.

Dark areas along water damage is where the pigment has settled in concentrated areas.


Water damage that removed all pigment and reverted to raw muslin.

The Fort Scott collection was in amazing condition when we placed it into storage on November 23, 2015, at the age of 91 yrs. old! The date when Moses finished the last drop for the collection was November 17, 1924. The scenery was in much better shape than any other historical collection I had come across to date. Part of the reason for the minimal deterioration was the lack of water damage. You have to understand that it is almost unheard of for a Scottish Rite scenery collection to not have some type of water damage; either from pipes that burst or a roof that leaks. Fortunately for us, there were no pipes above the scenery in Fort Scott and no detectable roof leaks!

Winona, Minnesota, Scottish Rite theatre. After removing all of the drops form the lines, water damage to the wooden grid and sky were visible from the stage floor.

Water can also damage drops when it sneaks in through the smoke doors high above the stage and slowly drips down onto the painted scenes. Smoke doors above the stage have a straightforward purpose, allowing the smoke and fire gasses to escape through the stage area and not into the auditorium. These vents above the stage which, when open during a fire, will draw smoke out of the auditorium and up out of the roof, enabling a safer evacuation of the audience. The vents are often attached to compressed springs, so that when activated, they will stay open. Various requirements are determined by the size and the height of the stage. Unfortunately, over time smoke doors can leak.

The reason for the smoke doors is clear – audience safety. In 1903, the Iroquois theatre fire in Chicago killed approximately 600 individuals, many children, during an afternoon matinee. Piles of bodies were discovered lined up in the aisles trying to exit through the locked theatre doors. After this tragedy and the many others that had preceded it, there was an increased effort toward both audience safety and fire prevention. Many fire codes were put in place and included exits, fire barriers, and smoke doors.

Interestingly, the Fort Scott smoke doors were placed above the stage left side. Any leaking that might have occurred happened away from the painted scenes in the off-stage area. I had made a mental note at the time that I would have to keep an eye out for this building anomaly in the future. Was it really an anomaly, or were the architects who worked closely with theatre professionals at that time aware of the potential damage to the scenery and lighting fixtures? If it was taken into consideration for one Scottish Rite theatre, there could be other examples elsewhere.

And then I encountered the issue of smoke doors at the MMHC theatre during the spring of 2016. I was sitting at a construction meeting when I realized that the MMHC smoke doors were centered above the stage and would automatically open when a fire alarm was pulled. I immediately expressed a concern that if the doors popped open during a rainstorm, the contents of the historic scenery would be completely destroyed. Had no one thought of this?

I then continued stating that the collection had a replacement value of over $1,000,000.00 and the majority of it could be destroyed in an instant. Everyone at the meeting looked toward the CEO for clarification and direction. The room was silent. Then I realized that this was a moot point for the CEO he moved on to the previous topic – the need for some safety mechanism to prevent workers from falling through the opening if the doors sprung open.

I kept wondering, “Why did they really want any historic drops in the space if they didn’t care what happened to them after the installation?” After all, what was the point of replicating an historic theatre space to accommodate an entire Scottish Rite scenery collection?

To be continued…

Yankton, South Dakota. Minimal water damage running down drop. In cases like this, it is barely detectable from twenty feet away and I do not recommend any paint-touch up.
Austin, Texas. Luckily the damage occurred on the far stage left and stage right sides. Masking legs for this scene conceal much of the water damage.
Salina, Kansas. Water damage almost falls dead center. However the water damage was brief and the majority of pigment remained on the fabric.
Winona, Minnesota. This collection has scenes with extensive water damage. In some cases the water damage occurs in three areas: stage right, center stage, and stage left. Continued water damage over long period of time have caused areas of raw fabric to remain visible.
If water damage is constant, black mold will appear, as well as rust rings around tack marks.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 36

Part 36: The Proposal
The CEO proposed that I hang the unrestored drops in the MMHC theatre, later remove the unrestored drops for restoration, restore the drops off site, and then hang the restored drops. This was simply ludicrous. I explained that this proposal would take it’s toll on each painting, as well as double the amount of necessary labor for restoration. His primary motivation was that the three scenery storage units that housed the Fort Scott collection were costing over $14,000 each year. His proposal was part of our continued discussion surrounding the query, “Why can’t we just hang the drops unrestored?”
I continued to detail the damage that would occur due to excessive handling. Every time a drop was handled, it would suffer from some form of deterioration. That was one of the reasons that I always completed restorations onsite. You see, after cleaning and stabilization the drop would still need to be rolled, encapsulated, and transported back to the MMHC theatre if it were restored off site. As previously explained, the fabric was not like a stiff sheet of linoleum when it was rolled for transport, wrinkles would occur during the rolling. If wrinkles were rolled into the tube, the restored painting would crack and show an unsightly flaw once hung.
Also, there were some areas that needed to be reinforced, cut openings that demanded new fabric, and some compositions that would be slightly altered to fit the MMHC proscenium opening. Excessive handling was also another one of the other reasons that I recommend against sewing anything onto historic drops as it rapidly destroyed the painted composition. Everything takes a beating and needs much more touch-up once hung in the space.
Finally, many of the unrestored scenes could not be hung immediately as they were missing the fabric on cut centers. This had been removed due to excessive filth prior to shipping. They simply couldn’t be hung unrestored without new netting or bobbinet, as the drops would sag.
Removing 1″ opera net from a cut drop.
Also, the tops and the bottoms of each drop needed to have a reinforced layer so that the edges of the wooden battens would not “rip” the old fabric over time. The weak spots on every drop are just above the bottom batten and just below the top batten. The edges of the wood can wear through fabric. Even if the fabric appears in excellent condition it will eventually fail.
In restoration, my current operating procedure is to reinforce the back sides of all the battened areas as a form of “preventative care,” adding a few additional decades to the longevity of each painted scene. This procedure also needs to happen if EVER a pipe pocket is attached, or a weakness is introduced into the fabric and that section WILL fail overtime.
As previously discussed, each drop needed to be stabilized to prevent dusting pigment too, thus causing a health hazard. Drops were “stabilized” with a diluted hide glue mixture “made to order” for each drop. I would heat up the granulated hide glue until it turned into thick syrup, with a consistency similar to a corn syrup. Then I added water to this syrup prior to spraying a thin application on the painted surface.
Granulated hide glue. Water is added to this and heated, forming a thick liquid that is diluted for spraying on drops during stabilization or mixed with dry pigment for touch-up.
Spraying diluted hide glue on cleaned drops during restoration.
You want it as thin as possible for the finish to remain matte and the fabric flexible. If, for some reason, the stabilizing spray was too strong – meaning there was too much glue in the mixture – the painted surface would show a slight sheen and reflect stage lights, enhancing any subsequent wrinkles. In this particular scenario with too strong of a stabilization spray, the entire drop also became thicker and much more difficult to handle without damaging.
There were too many chances were being taken if the scenes were restored off site.
In the end, I again explained to the CEO that unless you want to jeopardize the condition of the scenes and double the anticipated workload, all restoration work needed to occur on site. I couldn’t “knowingly or wittingly” do something that would harm the collection. In hindsight, this was the beginning of the end as the CEO saw this as an opportunity to “win” a battle at any cost.
To be continued…