Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 73

Part 73: Hot Melt Glue on Historic Scenery is Like Scotch Tape on a Rare Book

All of the Fort Scott drops hanging for the Singers in Accord concert at the Minnesota Masonic Center were ruined beyond repair. There was nothing I could do other than sit in the audience and try to enjoy the music, while inconspicuously wiping away tears. I assessed the obvious damage apparent from my seat in the fourth row. My mind raced as I tried to problem solve every visible flaw and come up with any solution for its repair.

Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert.
Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. Notice scalloped edge where leg drop is cut in half and not netted.

From the auditorium, everything had a slight sheen that accentuated all of the sags and wrinkles caused during the improper handling and preparation for hanging. The shiny surface, a result from having too much glue in the stabilization spray, suggested that there would be a slight “crunch” to fabric if I touched it. The trees were limply hanging at a slight angle with visible netting gathering at the sides of the leg drops, like curtains. Everything looked “off” – a sad little spot in the forest indeed.

Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. Notice sheen on painted surface from too much glue in stabilization spray.
Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. Notice sheen from too much glue in stabilization spray that accentuates the wrinkles. Also see how pipe pocket does not effectively weight down the scene.

I looked up to see how the tops were attached and froze. It was worse than I could have possibly imagined. The top part of the leg had not only been cut in two and glued together to reduce the overall width. Instead, the cut edge had little “puffy cloud” scallops, as if made with craft scissors during a scrapbooking session. The two edges were loose and gapping. The entire top of the wood leg drop was not even netted. What had they been thinking?!?

Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. Notice sags from the use of jute webbing instead of wooden battens.

The concert ended and I whispered to me mom, “I’ll be right back.” As I wound my way toward the backstage area, I tried to not make eye contact with anyone who might stop me. I dashed up the steps and darted behind a leg drop. I wanted to see how the netting was attached to the fabric. Would it be possible to ever take it off?

I stared in horror at the hot melt glue threads connecting one knotted intersection to another. This was worse than I could have possibly imagined. It seemed hard to believe that anyone who had ever worked in theater could do this poorly of a netting job. Let alone how Outhouse Exhibit Services, a company that handled historic artifacts and constructed museum exhibits, could possibly justify the use of hot melt glue on a historic painting acceptable in any circumstance. Hot melt glue on historic scenery is like Scotch tape on a rare book!

Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. See how netting was hot melt glued on crooked.
Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. Notice how netted was attached despite wrinkled base, forming small puckers.
Fort Scott scenery hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center during Singers in Accord concert. This is a section of dirty and original netting that was not removed prior to hanging.

On top of the completely inappropriate use of hot melt glue, the netting was attached crooked. It was apparent that no guidelines had been snapped to layout the netting. This was a crucial step in the netting process. Even a quick Google search on “How to net a cut drop” would immediately reveals the netting process in detail as described in “Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools, and Techniques” (Susan B. Crabtree and Peter Beudert, 2004). Had they not done any research on what to do – even on a new drop? The entire netting process for cut drops is available for preview online and to download as an ebook.

I was in the middle of looking at the scene when two of my husband’s colleagues approached me. “Nice job,” they said and I immediately shook my head. “No,” I responded, “I had absolutely nothing to do with this restoration – it was done by someone else.” They at once looked at me with a profound sense of relief. “Oh, thank goodness,” one said, “The scenery really looks bad.” I grimaced and nodded in agreement. So, other people saw the flaws too.

The fact that they thought I was the one responsible for the destruction of these drops gave me a chill. For people who were unfamiliar with my work, this could destroy my entire restoration. Only a very small number of people realized that I had been let go from my position as Curatorial Director.

I left the stage and sought out my husband to congratulate him as his group of fans had diminished by that point. Giving him a hug, he asked, “How did it look?” I half-smiled and nodded, not wanting to say anything that would detract from his moment. “We can talk about it later, just enjoy your success!” Then I wandered to the back of the theater to quietly chat with our friend who had photographed the concert. After mentioning the sad state of the scenery, he looked at me and said, “Not your circus. Not your monkeys.” He was right, but I had a growing concern that people mistakenly believed that I restored the scenes and in my field, reputation was everything.

A few years back, I had a professional drop to his knees and bow. I couldn’t conceive that his gesture and was meant for me and looked over my shoulder, expecting to see the recipient of his praise. We were meeting for the first time in 2014 at a League of Historical American Theaters conference in NYC. He got up from the floor, shook my hand, and said, “It’s so nice to meet you, I’ve seen your work in McAlester, Oklahoma. It’s absolutely amazing!” The professional was Jeff Greene of EverGreene Architectural Arts and he had just finished discussing his own company’s restoration work at King’s Theatre in Brooklyn. I considered Jeff to be one of the preeminent experts in the field of historic theater restoration and couldn’t possibly understand how he might remember my work or my name. I was a very small business owner, but my reputation had preceded me.

Like many artists, our reputations are built on our professionalism and final product. If our work impresses people, we get hired again. Our work is primarily spread through word of mouth. As with a work ethic, we can’t fake a skill. That is why I’ve never lied on a resumé or misrepresented my work. People pay attention, make inquiries, and talk to colleagues about past experiences on various projects. We cannot succeed or get hired if we leave a legacy of disastrous results.

As I left the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center after my husband’s concert, I was horrified that this botched “restoration” might be associated with me.

To be continued…

Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Same scene when it was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 72

Part 72: And We’ll Hope to Keep Your Losses to Comparatively Few

The remaining painted scenes for the Singers in Accord concert at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center used cut drops with one-inch opera netting – the cathedral, King Solomon’s private apartments, and the woods. As I looked at the cathedral, the first thing that I noticed was the inappropriate use of white netting.

Historically, netting for early-twentieth century Scottish Rite cut drops was black, allowing it to “disappear” on stage. White netting in cut openings slightly obscures the background, creating a subtle “haze” to cloud the upstage composition. I have noticed that the rationale for selecting white netting is often to match the dominant color of the composition. Black netting contributes to the overall scenic illusion. Unfortunately, they had made the unfortunate selection of white netting for the cathedral scene. The cut openings now suggested an eerie cloudiness to this religious setting.

The next scene was King Solomon’s Apartments and I started to experience a sense of increased hopelessness.

King Solomon’s Apartment hanging at the Scottish Rite in Fort Scott, Kansas. Notice the amazing condition of the painted drops and lack of wrinkles.
King Solomon’s Apartment hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center on February 11, 2017 for the Singer’s in Accord concert. Note the wrinkles.
Closer view. King Solomon’s Apartment hanging at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center on February 11, 2017 for the Singer’s in Accord concert. Note the wrinkles.

It was apparent that an amateur had attached the netting and it had not gone smoothly. As with the cloud cut drop there were puckers and wrinkles everywhere, particularly at the corners of every opening. These symptoms indicate that the painted scenes shrank unevenly when the drops were stabilized (sprayed with a liquid solution to keep the dusting pigment attached to the fabric). This made it impossible to effectively net as the fabric would not lay flat. Without any regard to this condition, netting had been attached anyway. It now hung with large sags at every corner. It had an appearance similar to crow’s feet gathering at the corners of aged eyes.

Additionally, this King Solomon scene was intended to go with a painted cyclorama that provided an incredible amount of depth on stage. Instead, it just sat in front of a poorly lit white cyclorama. I sat there sadly wondering how the final scene would appear.

As Thomas Moses’ masterpiece – the forest scene – was lowered to the stage, I stopped breathing and my chest tightened. There is that moment when you break a fragile piece of china – a precious family heirloom. You see the shattered remnants everywhere and know that it can’t be fixed. It is all just lost – forever – and there is nothing that you can do about it. You certainly can’t wish it away. That was how I felt looking at the drops that evening.

I spent the remainder of the concert trying to regain my composure. When I first walked into the theater, I was determined not to go up on the stage and look closely at the scenery. Now it was like driving by a horrific car accident; I was compelled to turn and assess the carnage.

To be continued…

Lowering the King Solomon’s Apartment cut drops at the Fort Scott Scottish Rite for removal and transportation to Minnesota. Look at the top batten and see how well-preserved the drop was in November 2015. This scene was in amazing condition.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 71

Part 71: Stormy Weather

“Scenery restoration” means that each scene is “restored to its original appearance.” Restored drops should look almost like new. I have painstakingly taken steps over the years to create a restoration process that not only removes original flaws on the painted scene, but also repairs subsequent damage that occurred over time. The Chaos and New Jerusalem scenes that were hanging during the February 2017 concert at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center looked far worse than when I last handled them in Fort Scott during November 2015.

These were the first drops to be lowered for my husband’s concert. The represented the nineteenth degree. Not all Scottish Rite theaters use this particular scene – the chaos of old Jerusalem that transforms into New Jerusalem. Surrounded by a series of cloud cut drops with bobbinet centers, there is a magically haze to the setting. When I photographed the drops in Fort Scott they looked absolutely beautiful. In particular the painting of chaos was pristine and full of life.

Drop hanging at Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center for February 11, 2017 concert. Side sagging and wrinkles are a direct result of improper restoration techniques and entirely preventable.

The only flaw that I had documented in Fort Scott for this scene was the glue line. It had been collecting dirt over the decades as it slighting protruded from the painted surface and consequently caught settling contaminants. Unlike one-inch opera netting, bobbinet necessitated swaths of glue to secure it to the fabric surround. In some cases, the glue was brushed on while either too hot or too thin. This meant that a continuous scar would run around the cut opening, revealing the glue line on the painted surface.

Drop while hanging in Fort Scott. Notice only flaw along bottom edge is glue line. The dark appearance is contaminants that settled on the protrusion over nine decades.
The result if improper restoration techniques. Detail of additional wrinkles that are created when replacing wooden battens at bottom of historical drops with pipe pockets.

I began to contemplate why this scene hanging for husband’s concert looked so bad on stage. The surprise, anger, and then absolute desolation that I felt during the first set of songs continued throughout the concert as I watched the next three scenes get lowered to the stage. The care and time that I spent during the two hundred forty hours in three weeks of November 2015 seemed an absolute waste. I desperately sought for something positive to come out of this mess as I sat in my seat watching the concert.

People don’t know what they don’t know. Maybe no one else who was sitting in the audience realized that this entire scene was now destroyed and had a very short life in this theater.

It took months for me to realize that this was a perfect opportunity for every future publication, guest lecture, or restoration proposal that I would present from here on out. I now had visual aids of what NOT to do when handling historical scenery collection. Things that I have warned clients about for years – including the CEO and general director – now had pictures to accompany my warnings and overall advice.

For this chapter and the next three installments, I will present how these scenes could have been restored to make them appear “like new” without loosing any of the original painting of Thomas Moses or their historical significance.

As we look at the “before” pictures, you will notice that the major flaw is the glue line. This puckered and raised scar on historical scenery is completely reversible as the hide glue is water-based and will soften with the introduction of water. After cleaning the drop and removing the original bobbinet, the drop is weighted down and the majority of old crusty glue scraped off, the area is gently sprayed with water, removing the remainder of the glue. As the base is fabric, you have to be careful, because if you saturate the fabric too much or puddles of liquid form near the edge, you will cause dye rings as the pigment (color) will also shift and be redistributed in another area of the painting. Once the drop’s edge is flat, the composition is flipped face up for a stabilization spray that will re-attach and dusting pigment back onto the surface.

Once the drop is cleaned, stabilized, and all damage repaired, new bobbinet is attached to the cut opening. If the glue is too thick – it will crack. If the glue is too thin – it will pucker. While attaching the bobbinet, it must have complete contact with the fabric and the glue cannot penetrate the fabric too deeply. Toward the end of the drying it is possible to slightly weight down the edge – though this might be a gamble it has always paid off for me. Timing is everything. If this seems like rocket science, you are right. This is extremely difficult to do on old fabric with dry pigment on the surface. It is not at all like creating a new cut drop.

Finally, when the drop is hung and the bottom battens attached, care must be taken or side wrinkles and extreme sagging will form. Replacing wooden battens with a pipe pockets as previously discussed in installments (eleven, twenty eight, and thirty six) all contribute to the overall appearance of sagging and wrinkles.

The hanging cloud cut drop at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center suffers from many errors during its repair and preparation for hanging.

Note all puckers pulling out from center cut opening showing that the drop shrunk unevenly during restoration.

The stabilization spray saturated the fabric of the drop too much and was likely allowed to pool on the fabric surface. Now you might not notice this if you are doing it for the first time as many believe “the more spray the better.” Unfortunately, this caused the uneven pull of the cut opening as the fabric continued to shrink with the reintroduction of water. This was the direct cause of side wrinkles; without a bottom batten these wrinkles could no longer be minimized during installation.

There is also a slight sheen to the entire scene and a crackled appearance to portions on the stage left side of the cut opening. It is also likely that the size mixture (diluted hide glue) was mixed to strong. In other words the “glue water,” was not thinned enough during preparation.

Remember hide glue is heated up to a syrup and thinned prior to either spraying or brushing on the drop. If the there is too much glue in the mixture, it causes a slight sheen to the painted surface. Dry pigment painting has an extremely matte appearance that never reflects the glare of stage lights, as the scenic illusion would be destroyed.

There was no sheen to any of the painted scenery when we removed it from the lines in Fort Scott.

To be continued…

Painted detail documented while drop was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Painted detail documented while drop was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Painted detail documented while drop was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.

 

Painted detail documented while drop was hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.
Chaos scene hanging in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center- part 70

Part 70: Everything has its Season, Everything has its Time.

It was January 2017 and my husband Andrew’s concert at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center was just around the corner. “From Highlights to Shadows: A Choral Scenographic Journey” was the title. All advertising included the description “The scenic art of Thomas Gibbs Moses set to the music of Whitacre, Gjeilo, Paulus, Parry and many more!”

As guest conductor for the group “Singers in Accord,” he was well into rehearsals by now, having first proposed the concert over a year ago. He still did not know whether there would be any scenery hanging in the theater for his concert and would receive no assurance until the week of the concert.

Poster for my husband’s concert.

On November 29, 2016, the general director of the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center emailed, “We are working on the scenes you requested for the February 11 show. I wanted to confirm the particular scene you have in mind as item 1, Desolate/new Jerusalem. Is the attached scenes from the 19th the one you had in mind? If so, how many of the lines do you want. As you can probably imagine, we are making painful choices adapting the Fort Scott Collection to our line sets.”

What painful choices I wondered? The scenery organization for the new rigging system had been determined since December 2015. I had worked extensively with Paul Whitaker of Schuler Shook to make sure that only a few leg drops needed to be removed due to spatial restrictions as the Ladd theater contained fewer lines than the Fort Scott stage. Furthermore, the general director had emailed a page from the Fort Scott scenery book that I had created a year ago to reference with my husband. That meant they still were using my book.

Page from the Fort Scott scenery book that created for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. This is the page that general director emailed my husband on November 29, 2016. At that time scenery was still being identified for the February 11, 2017 concert.

When last I discussed the continued email correspondence between the general director and my husband, there was no guarantee that any scenery would be available for his February Concert. Therefore, I helped him assemble a slide show for a last-minute “Plan B” option.

The general director also explained to Andrew that the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center had no one to handle the scenery, so he would have to find his own crew to move the lines. To be clear, he was told that the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center had no one to handle the lines. This would all but guarantee the damage of drops in the future. Andrew explained that he would have to find people to have on “standby” as there might (or might not) be scenery for the crew to handle; he had absolutely no guarantees.

The week before the concert my husband had still no assurance that there would be scenery hanging for his concert – the concert about the scenery. However, the general director explained that the drops were being moved to the theater the Monday before his Saturday concert.
For the dress rehearsal on Tuesday, February 7, Andrew couldn’t see what drops were hanging, nor use them at that time. Furthermore, there were the pipes for the newly sewn pipe pockets cluttering the stage, preventing the possibility of an effective dress rehearsal. Thankfully, he had his digital slide show all ready to go – just in case.

During the afternoon of the concert, Andrew arrived at theater early to see what was hanging. He had received no email relaying that there either was or wasn’t scenery to use and the general director did not have a good track record of either responding to emails or phone messages in an expedient manner anyway.

While there, Andrew discovered a woman still on the stage attempting to do some last minute work on the scenery. He watched her set up an electric hot melt glue gun and start attaching wooden boards to keep the cut drop from sagging loose netting on a hanging drop.

While working at home, I received his text: “It is not restoration. Just jute and hot melt glue.” I read and re-read his text a few times and then decided to ignore the whole issue. I could do nothing even if I had read the text correctly and I would hear about it after the concert regardless. I was dreading going to the concert that night and this new information doubled my desire to stay at home.
The CEO had selected individuals who had never restored any scenery before – they were simply preparing the scenery for hanging. I continued to try and think positive thoughts, such as, “Well at least the drops will be hung so that futures of generations can see Thomas Moses’ painting up close.”

When I entered the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center that evening and waited in the lobby to enter the theater, numerous people came up to congratulate me on the restoration and how wonderful it must be to work with my husband on such a unique concert.

I repeatedly had to explain that my involvement with the scenery stopped once it was delivered to the storage unit. I had nothing to do with the scenery or the individuals hired to prepare it for hanging. “Oh,” was their response as I could see them trying to understand why I had nothing to do with this scenery collection’s restoration and I did not elaborate.
I entered the auditorium with my parents and son to find our seats in the fourth row center. I had asked a friend to take photographs of the concert as I had no desire to snap pictures during the performance – I wanted to simply enjoy the music and watch my husband conduct the choir.

Whatever I had been expecting to see, it wasn’t the wrinkled and damaged paintings that were lowered to the stage throughout the concert.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 69

Part 69: Kismet

A series of fortuitous events occurred after I became unemployed. I chose to interpret these opportunities as if the universe were giving me a big “thumb’s up” on my current path in life. Whether fate or luck, long-hidden information kept appearing out of nowhere.

In 1996, I sent out a series of handwritten letters to the decedents of Thomas Gibbs Moses just prior to the opening of the museum exhibit “Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Sacred Space of the Scottish Rite.” It was just one of my many tasks as assistant to the curator, Lance Brockman. Almost all of these letters remained unanswered and I figured that this particular chapter of my life was closed. That was the case until the spring of 2016.

Thomas Gibbs Moses (1856-1934), scenic artist and eventual president of Sosman & Landis Studio (1877-1924).

An instant message was sent to me during March of 2016. I missed it. During my first month of unemployment in August, I stumbled across the request to “accept” on Facebook. It was an inquiry to see if I was the same “Wendy Waszut” who had written a letter in 1996.

A great grandson of Thomas Moses was finally responding to one of my handwritten letters! Apologizing profusely for not responding two decades earlier, he had been in the process of moving to another country when he received my letter. It simply got tucked away in a box and only recently emerged as he was downsizing.

I was astounded by his actions. There is something amazing about someone stumbling across an old letter and regretting not responding to the author. But it is something else entirely to find the letter and actually contact the author after twenty years. By now, Moses’ descendants were scattered across the world. Many still had paintings and other personal artifacts of their famous relative. Some were now trying to decide what to do with these precious artifacts and how to preserve them for others to enjoy. Here was one asking me for help.

The great grandson was a man who wanted to keep his identity private, so I will not mention his name or home. Sadly, he knew only bits and pieces about his “famous” great-grandfather. Regardless, he treasured his small stockpile of fine art pieces produced throughout the course of his great-grandfather’s life.

During September 2016, we started corresponding by both email and telephone. We immediately connected and enjoyed each conversation. He was a delightful and accomplished individual, having overcome his own share of struggles. I told him stories that I had read in Moses’ typed manuscript and how I had first indexed his writings and scrapbook during the early 1990s. As always, added my own personal insights into the artist’s passions, hobbies, friends, frustrations, and business betrayals.

He shared pictures of Moses’ paintings that remained in the family and were passed down to him. These blurry photos made it very difficult to see the painted details. He then provided me with contact information for a few other family members, so excited was he to have me make contact with them. I emailed all immediately – no response. I began to wonder if the remainder of his family wanted to be left alone. Anyway, I had enough on my plate with the upcoming photo shoot in Santa Fe.

Enter again my friend Janet Wolter. Remember that we had formed a fast friendship after volunteering together at the Scottish Rite library (she is noted in installments 16 and 52). Janet and her husband were planning to fly to the author’s region for an upcoming project. “For how long?” I asked. “Two weeks,” she responded. It just so happened that they would be nearby the great-grandson on the last day of their travels. “If I can arrange it, would it be possible for you to visit and photograph some pictures of Thomas Moses?” I asked, further explaining that he was having difficulties with taking quality images. Janet and her husband did visited the great-grandson and took fabulous details of each artwork. I now had a further understanding of Moses’ fine art techniques for my records.

Detail of one painting that still remains with the family. Photo courtesy of Janet and Scott Wolter.

About this same time I finally make contact with another descendant. He also apologized that it had taken him so long to respond to my initial inquiries and explained that he had some of the handwritten diaries tucked away somewhere. This absolutely shocked me as I had just transcribed what I understood to be the only remaining handwritten diary that fall.

I explained that I would happily transcribe any diaries that he had, if only he could send me images. He admitted attempting many times to decipher his great-grandfather’s scrawling penmanship with no luck. He needed someone else to do it. “Chicken scratch,” he said about his great-grandfather’s writing and we finished our conversation.

Two weeks later, I received the scans of the four diaries –1929, 1930, 1932 and 1933. I had just transcribed 1931 and we discussed why that particular year would have been removed from the sequence. Why would it have ever been separated from the original set? If I had not just identified and examined the 1931 model at the Harry Ransom Center, I would still be left pondering that question.

February 8, 1932 entry: “They were all pleased with the model, which we had quite a time packing the first time.” The model had been shipped from California to Chicago for the first time during December 1931.

I believe that John Rothgeb requested to borrow that particular year from the family. This was an attempt to glean any information about the electric theater model. Like me, he had noticed the manufacture date of 1931. Unlike me, he hadn’t read the 1931 diary first. At the time, Rothgeb received the diary, he was still unsure if it was model was Moses’ work or not.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 68

Part 68: Service Studios
I was in the middle of constructing the databases, collecting unemployment, and looking for work when something wonderful appeared out of nowhere.

Over the years, amazing fraternal artifacts have found there way to my door, usually journeying north from Chicago. It always came from my friend, Brian. We had initially met over the phone in the mid-1990s. This was when I started doing research for Lance Brockman, tracking down information for the museum exhibit, “Theatre of the Fraternity.” We touched base again during 2000 when I was assigning metadata to the Scenery Collection Database at the Performing Arts Archives. Both times, Brian was my link to information on early-twentieth century scenic artists in the Chicago area, especially if the belonged to the Union.

A decade later in 2010, Brian contacted me again when he heard of the Peoria, Illinois Scottish Rite scenery collection. We both frantically tried to come up options that could provide the scenery collection with a new home. Then, I realized that if it was going to be saved, I would have to personally finance the project and rescue the collection.  It became clear that the drops were destined for a dumpster. A year later, Scottish Rite pounces ended up on my doorstep and a Thomas Moses oil painting (1926) rolled up in a tube. Then came the installation records for several Northern Masonic Jurisdiction Scottish Rites. A year after that, all of the leftover dry pigment and aniline dyes he had stored were sent back with a family member and a message for me to pick up.

I finally was able to visit with Brian at the Chicago Lyric Opera shops while I was attending a League of Historic American Theatre conference in 2014. Once again, I returned home with my arms full of abandoned records that Brian had carefully collected and stored, waiting for the right moment to find a new home for the artifacts. You see, Brian was a kindred spirit, one of the few people who was also intimately familiar with life and art of many the Chicago-area artists from the early twentieth century onward. He was a scenic artist and historian who also had a driving desire to preserve our past. So when I started to create my Scenic Artist Database during the Fall, Brian was a recipient as he would be able to add information to my records.

Most recently, he shared a book of Masonic designs from the 1920s when he travelled to the Twin Cities. I was speechless as I paged through the book of black and white photographs of Masonic models during lunch with Brian and my son in St. Paul.

Service Studios book of Masonic designs for Scottish Rite, York Rite, Blue Lodge, Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm (MOVPER) Grotto, and Ancient Arabic Order of the Noble Mystic Shrine (AAONMS).

These images were all Sosman and Landis designs yet stamped “Service Studios.” These designs filled in many of the compositions that weren’t included in the Holak Collection (Sosman & Landis, Chicago Studios, and New York Studios), Twin City Scenic Co. Collection, and the Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection.

Stamp for Service Studios of Chicago, Illinois.

I tried to recall all of the information that I knew about Service Studios of Chicago. Amazingly, I had learned quite a bit during my trip to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. The origin of the Service Studios is a fascinating one and depicts the struggle between the first wave of scenic artists who started their careers between 1880-1900 and the second wave of scenic artists who started their careers between 1900-1920.

You see, by 1920 the artists who started working during the second wave began founding their own scenic studios. This was no different that what the first wave of artists had done, but the actual artists were different. There was always the internal battle for the scenic artist between freedom and steady paycheck.

But there was something different for the studios started by the second wave artists as they were founding companies just before the crash. The money wave that everyone had been riding started to slow down for a variety of reasons, one being the diminished demand for painted illusion and the other had to do with early appearance of “paint it yourself” scene painting manuals for academic institutions. I previously discussed the crumbling of old alliances between studios and the passing of many original founders in the 1920s (see part 60).

So this was the business landscape when Service Studios emerged onto the scene in 1920. You see, several top artists left the Sosman and Landis studio (not just one or two) to start their own business. Among them was the scenic artist John Hanny, who had worked for the company since 1906. Hanny, as was the case with many other young hires, started out his studio career as a “pot boy” – filling the pots on the paint palettes with color. Hanny very slowly worked his way to becoming a scenic artist.

Thomas Moses had actually been the one to hire Hanny. This was just two years after Moses had returned to Sosman & Landis from NYC where he had been working from 1900-1904. He had left Chicago to paint Broadway shows, even creating scenery for amusements at Luna Park on Coney Island.
I appreciate and relate to Moses’ outlook on life, his artistic drive, and work ethic. It is obvious that he worked his tail off – all – the – time – and took pride in everything he did. That being said, I doubt that he was an easy man to work for, especially if you were a studio “pot boy.” Moses was extremely fast, a hard worker and, most of all, a perfectionist. This never bodes well for others unless they share these same characteristics.

Interestingly, the Service Studios artists seem to have created their own sales book of black and white photographs, depicting Masonic designs. The only problem is that the designs were those from Sosman and Landis installations. The designs in the Service Studios book depicted the exact compositions found in many Southern Jurisdiction Scottish Rite Theaters, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, Grand Forks, North Dakota, Tucson, Arizona, Winona, Minnesota, and many other Masonic locations.

Service Studios book with photograph of design for the 5th degree.
Pasadena, California Scottish Rite drop for the 5th degree. This scene was originally created for the Scottish Rite in Little Rock, Arkansas (first scenery collection there (1896-1901).
Service Studios photograph depicting 9th degree design.
Tucson, Arizona scene depicted in Service Studios Masonic design book.
Grand Fork, North Dakota scene depicted in Service Studios Masonic design book.

What’s the possibility that the artist’s starting Service Studios pirated pictures of the model as they would start with an “instant inventory?” It was looking very likely.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 67

Part 67: Drop Detectives
Throughout the fall of 2016, I started to slowly dig through the information from Austin, carefully sorting and labeling each of the 5000+ images. By the time I finished identifying the photos, I knew what to do with the information. I would construct two databases.

The first would contain information on individual scenic artists and the studios that they founded. The second would specifically identify Masonic scenery installations, noting specific studios and the number of scenery installations per Valley since their charter.

Earlier that year, I created two other databases: one recording Volland Studio installations and the other Sosman & Landis installations. For Sosman & Landis, I began to identify the ones that Moses noted in his resumé and then all others. My endgame was to be able to divide the scenery crews and which artist painted what and where. I knew that this could take the next few decades, but once I identified each artist’s technique it would get easier. I had done a similar thing with the Scenery Collection Database for the Performing Arts Collection at the University of Minnesota in 2000. I was able to identify the artist of many renderings even without signatures.

In the end, these databases were going to be primarily for my own research and work. They would provide quick reference while evaluating a collection or getting a call from Rick Boychuk who would have questions when he was looking at historic scenery across the country. These were often the highlights of my day and it was quite something to receive a text with a picture and a follow-up call. Sometimes, I imagined us with our own miniseries – “Drop Detectives.” This was only second to the more popular “Masonic Pickers.”

I created this because I needed a laugh – Maybe it should be a cartoon strip.

As I continued to enter information into my databases, I thought about what I should do with the information once it was complete. There were possibilities with several books that would keep me busy well into retirement – if I ever retired, which I highly doubted. Did I want to spend that much time in front of a computer screen? No. I was happiest when working with my hands, but I also saw value in sharing this information and making sure that it didn’t die with me.

With the information that I had gathered over the years and the information that I had discovered most recently at the Harry Ransom Center, I could reconstruct the development of the Masonic designs and the scenery installations at Scottish Rite theaters – keeping it closely aligned with development of the counterweight rigging system. After my work with Rick, I couldn’t keep the scenery independent of the rigging systems anymore. At this point I knew the planning, materials, timelines, artists and installations. I had even started to track down the collections as they were initially sold and resold.

There was a pattern and rhythm to the placement and upgrading of scenery installations at Scottish Rite theaters.
For the Santa Fe Scottish Rite photo shoot, I had created a document for all of the degrees to use as a quick reference. This included the original settings for the historical reenactments as mandated through Scottish Rite legislation in both the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions, as well as the numerous scenes that could be staged for each degree.

I examined imagery from extant scenery collections as well as all of the Masonic designs that I had encountered and photographed over the years. I could identify all of the new designs that were produced by each studio, appearing as waves washing up on a beach. For example, I could trace the 4th degree Holy of Holies – the inner sanctum of King Solomon’s Temple where the Arc of the Covenant and other religious relics were kept.

Cincinnati, Ohio. First generation scenery 1889 by E.T. Harvey.
Cincinnati, Ohio. Third generation scenery by Volland Studio of St Louis.
Quincy, Illinois, 1914. Volland and Toomey. 1914.
Moses design, 1931. Harry Ransom Center, UT Austin.
McAlester, Oklahoma. 1929, Moses.
Yankton, South Dakota. Sosman & Landis, 1908. Originally created for South McAlester, Oklahoma.
Holak Collection from the U of MN Performing Arts Archives, Scenery Collection Database. Sosman & Landis.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. U of MN Performing Arts Scenery Collection Database. Don Carlos DuBois.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. U of MN Performing Arts Scenery Collection Database. Don Carlos DuBois.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. U of MN Performing Arts Scenery Collection Database. Don Carlos DuBois.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. U of MN Performing Arts Scenery Collection Database. Don Carlos DuBois.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. Don Carlos DuBois. Galveston, Texas.
Great Western Stage Equipment Co. Collection. U of MN Performing Arts Scenery Collection Database. Don Carlos DuBois.

Was this what I really wanted to do, or should I just look at the scenic artists and their techniques?

To be continued…

 

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 66

Part 66: Qué será, será

As I sat in the Austin airport waiting for my return flight to Minneapolis, I thought about my recent discoveries. There was simply too much information to process at one time and my mind continued to race about future possibilities. I knew that it would take months to go through the 5,000+ photos from the Harry Ransom Center. It had been the only way that I could take the information contained in hundreds of paintings and documents back for study. I knew the extraordinary amount of time I would invest to process information that I had gathered over the course of three days.

But there was something else weighing heavily on my mind. It was my visit to the Austin Scottish Rite that got me thinking again about the future of Scottish Rite scenery. They too were in need of scenery restoration with no real funds to assure the preservation of their drops. As usual, all of the funds were being directed to the restoration of the physical structure of the building and interior spaces after years of deferred maintenance; drop repair was always low on the list and perceived as optional. Once again, I explained the need to look at the scenery as artworks and not simple backings. Plus there was the health hazard of dusting pigment and they produced children’s theatre. Although the scenery was remarkable, would it survive the next decade if left unattended? I doubted it.

There was an upcoming avalanche of Scottish Rite scenery and artifacts getting ready to enter the market. I felt that I was at the base of the mountain, hearing the rumble. Just like the snow breaking away from a peak, it would gather momentum as it raced down the mountainside.

It was no surprise that Masonic membership was declining, as many other fraternal, social, and religious organizations were in the same state. For the Scottish Rite, many of the Valleys were perched on the brink of destruction and already planning the sale of their beloved Masonic edifices – now looking at their once grand buildings as massive money pits. Saving historic backdrops would never be high on the list of priorities. Plus, where would they go and who would take them? I thought back to the auctions at the Scottish Rite in Fort Scott, Kansas, and the most recent one in Evansville, Indiana. Buildings were being liquidated and fraternal artifacts just auctioned off.

Fort Scott Auction in 2014. Contents of entire building was liquidated except the drops. A second auction had originally been planned for the scenery during August 2015 when I entered in negotiations on behalf of the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center as their Curatorial Director.
Picture from newspaper of 2014 Fort Scott auction.

In Evansville, I had contacted both the auction house and the Scottish Rite, hoping to rescue the collection during December 2016. I wanted to know what they had hanging above the stage as one of the Scottish Rite Valleys was interested in acquiring a few more scenes. As there were only partial pictures on the auction site revealed four compositions. I needed to know if the long trip and expense would be worth it.

Online auction of Evansville, Indiana Scottish Rite scenery.

The expense would not be in the purchase, it would be in the safe removal and transportation of the collection; hiring a local rigger and renting a truck. Locating a local help and estimating all of the expenses, I was signed up and ready to bid online. However, I could not go in blind, not knowing what was in the collection.

Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.
Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.
Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.
Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.
Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.
Enlarged detail from auction image of Evansville Scottish Rite scenery.

I could recognize that the collection was from Volland Studios and very similar to the Peoria, Illinois, collection and the Quincy, Illinois, collection.

The Valley secretary refused to return my call, even after I explained that I was representing another Valley who would like to purchase the scenery for degree work. Then I spoke with an auction house representative to inquire about the scenery and the removal. The site noted that all drops had to be removed in one day. I explained that this was simply impossible and dangerous, having done it twice. After our conversation, I would be given a two-week window to remove the Evansville scenery collection. Unfortunately, the auction house could not provide any information about the contents.

I called the Valley back again and once spoke with the female secretary – not the Valley’s executive secretary. I explained that I understood the difficulty and time involved to photograph the scenery for auction. However, did they have a list of the drops, or even the degrees that they used to perform, from that I could take an educated guess of what was there and make a decision? She checked with the executive secretary and I was told “No, we have nothing and have not used the drops for years.” I withdrew from the auction and watched the final results for the sale of the 15 drops – $550.

When bidding closed, the entire drop collection sold for only $550.

In many cases the contents that members treasured for decades are now being discarded, treated like unwanted toys or trash; they are simply abandoned with no attempts to find a new Masonic home.

This is a turning point for the Fraternity and I honestly can’t decide whether I want it to burn to the ground or rise against all odds. I just keep thinking of Doris Day singing, “The future’s not ours to see, qué será, sera.”

Regardless of Freemasonry’s future, there is going to be a flood of Masonic scenery that will continue to increase throughout the next few years. Much will be unsalvageable. Many of the collections are the same age and have never been maintained. Drops all over the country are simply ripping and falling to the floor. Hopefully, no one will be under them when they fall. These drops are often rolled up and tucked away. Many are simply thrown out at that point.

What can I save? Will I even know when the scenery is up for sale? When will I have to standby, feeling absolutely helpless, and watch artifacts get destroyed?

I really just want to drive around the country, collecting abandoned scenery in the back of my truck, and storing it at my studio in Cambridge, Minnesota.

A colleague once told me that I couldn’t save every historical drop. Deep in my heart I know that many collections will find their way to landfills over the course of the next decade, but I can not stand by and watch them disappear. Whether in digital or physical form, I am going to save as many drops as possible.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 65

Part 65: That’s Why They Call Me Second Hand Rose
 
The Valley of Austin was just down the street from the Harry Ransom Center on West 18th. Eric Colleary had kindly provided a preliminary email introduction to the woman that ran the Scottish Rite theater. This was another situation where a community theatre group had primary access and control of the stage and not the Masons. Taking a break from the reading room, we walked over to the Scottish Rite to meet the women who were the theater’s new caretakers. I intended it as a short trip for an in-person meeting, hoping one day to come back and evaluate the scenery collection in its entirety.
Austin Scottish Rite, Texas.
Austin Scottish Rite, Texas.
I knew that most of the Austin Scottish Rite scenery had been purchased second-hand through the M. C. Lilley Company from Lance Brockman’s research, but not much more. Mitchell C. Lilley (1819-1882) founded the M.C. Lilley Company in Columbus, Ohio during 1865. Originally starting as bookbinder and publisher, his company expanded to include regalia and paraphernalia for both military and fraternal organizations, as well as stages for fraternal theaters. For the many Scottish Rite Valleys in the Southern Jurisdiction, it was M.C. Lilley who contracted the entire project and then subcontracted individual portions of the project to various manufacturers and suppliers.
 
The Austin Scottish Rite scenery was purchased second hand through M. C. Lilley in 1913. It was originally manufactured by Sosman & Landis for Guthrie, Oklahoma in 1900. At the time of the scenery’s creation, David Austin Strong (1830-1911) still supervised Masonic scenery production in the shop; Moses had again left the studio and was freelancing in New York at this time. In his typed manuscript, Moses credited Strong as the “Daddy” of all Masonic design. I had always wondered about this statement as I had traced the origins of Scottish Rite scenery elsewhere in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, believing that Moses was solely referring to Strong’s influence on Masonic scenery at the Sosman & Landis studio, and their individual designs for the Scottish Rite.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Austin Scottish Rite scene.
Strong was a prolific artist in his own right, having flourished in New York as a scene painter before moving to Chicago. Among many impressive accomplishments, he is credited as one of the original artists for the 1866 productions of the “Black Crook” and “Rip Van Winkle.” His story is a tale that desperately needs to be told too.
 
Of the total 67 drops installed at the Austin Scottish Rite in 1913, 53 included the original charcoal markings designating their origin for Guthrie and measuring 15’ high by 30’ wide. This scenery was replaced when stage was enlarged in 1910, necessitating new scenery that measured 19’ high by 38’ wide. M.C. Lilley offered the the Guthrie Scottish Rite $1400 credit toward their new scenery purchase, intending to quickly resell the collection to another Scottish Rite Valley. This 1910 Guthrie scenery collection then was later transferred to their current building in 1923.
 
Records from Guthrie suggested that the original scenery collection had been purchased by Fort Scott, Kansas – a fact that shocked me when I stumbled across it. I now believe that the original Guthrie collection was split up immediately upon its return to M.C. Lilley; a few of the old drops were sent to Fort Scott to expand their 1904 collection and the rest remained in storage.
 
My discovery of the two scenes in Fort Scott that were much older than the remainder of the 1924 collection supports this theory. Furthermore, a 1912 letter to the Valley of Austin from Bestor G. Brown, then manager of the Western Offices for M.C. Lilley, discussed the division of the original Guthrie installation; noting that all of the original scenery would not be installed at the Austin Scottish Rite. Brown mentions that there were several drops and scenic pieces that would be of no use to the Austin Bodies.
 
As an M.C. Lilley representative, Brown negotiated with the Valley of Austin for the sale, arrangement, and installation of the Guthrie collection in their “new” theatre; they purchased an existing building. A scene plat was mailed to the Austin Scottish Rite for use when determining the final arrangement of scenes. Brown wrote, “The arrangement of drops is one of the most difficult things.” I know this intimately, as I designed how the Fort Scott scenery could fit into the new rigging system for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. There is a rhythm that you must follow to ensure an effective stage picture that will accommodate scenic illusions.
 
In 1912, Brown explained that they would arrange the used scenery so that it would be “properly adapted to the different Degrees and the sequence of Degrees.” However, he noted that even after careful preparation, some modifications would still occur after all of the scenery was hanging. Interestingly, all of the negotiations with Austin were delayed due to another M.C. Lilley project – the Santa Fe Scottish Rite.
 
As Brown later explained M.C. Lilley had only one employee who specialized in Scottish Rite scenery installation. I believe that this individual was possibly the stage machinist, Charles S. King, a Sosman & Landis employee. Little is known of King beyond a few newspaper articles identified furing the extensive research conducted by Rick Boychuk regarding the history of counterweight rigging.
 
Brown notes that the one who would be “superintending the installation” for the Austin project was currently occupied in Santa Fe at the Scottish Rite, installing an entirely new stage there, necessitating that he remain on site for approximately three weeks. Shortly after his correspondence, this superintendent and installation expert died from an accident. Brown explained that their deceased employee was the “only one thoroughly familiar with the special method of installing Scottish Rite scenery.” This special method was referred to as “Brown’s special system.” Then he continued, “We do not mean that it is impossible to follow the same methods as heretofore, but it will take a longer time to do it because of a lack of familiarity with the work.”
 
On January 23, 1913, Brown also noted the condition of the 1900 Guthrie collection, noting that “The scenery is in very good shape – infinitely better that the average theatrical scenery used on the road. The writer personally went over the scenery at the studio last week. While our contract does not contemplate it, we are touching up some of the scenery and if it be properly lighted, you will have a handsome set of scenery that we would not undertake to paint and install for less than, at least, $8,000.00”
 
The M. C. Lilley contract on February 25, 1913 sells the Austin Scottish Rite Bodies 64 used drops for $1,650, with a third due upon installation (cash), a third due the following year, and the final third due in two years. This financing was standard for these Scottish Rite endeavors and Brown writes, “In fact, if we had not been able to carry the Bodies in the Southern Jurisdiction as we have, we believe that fully one half of the development of the past ten years would not have been possible.”
 
Up to that time, M. C. Lilley had installed between 35 and 40 Masonic installations nationwide since 1900. And now some of these collections were finding a new home. I immediately thought of the line from Fanny Brice’s recording of “Second Hand Rose” in for the 1921 Ziegfeld Follies: “It’s no wonder that I feel abused, I never get a thing that hasn’t been used.”
 
To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center – part 64

Part 64: My Stardust Melody

As each design was removed from the second trunk and hung from a puppet frame, I contemplated other Masonic compositions that I had examined over the years. I noticed some similarities, but many of the designs were absolute surprises. Moses’ designs were a radical departure from the standard Scottish Rite collections that I had encountered across the country. He really was trying to do something new that would bring back the Scottish Rite business.

There were designs for each of the twenty-nine Scottish Rite degrees and many other settings for Blue Lodge, York Rite and the Ancient and Arabic Order of the Noble Mystic Shrine degree productions. The scope of his project made me think of the scenery installation in Winona, Minnesota. Now owned by the City of Winona, the collection was the most complete Masonic one that I had encountered to date with settings for the Blue Lodge, York Rite and Shrine.

The future for this historically significant rigging system and painted scenery collection was tenuous at best. Most of the collection had been damaged by water after the city had failed to repair a leaking roof. At this time, the community was going to select only ten drops to retain and the rest would be auctioned off.

Leaking roof above Winona, Minnesota, Masonic Center stage after all drops had been removed. The sky was visible from the stage floor and the roof had been leaking for years, causing continual water damage to the scenery.

The significance of Scottish Rite scenery installations is as a collection, not as individual drops or even partial scenes. It’s like keeping only ten random items from a silver service; keeping a silver teaspoon but getting rid of everything else. Unfortunately, no amount of reason could make the city council understand the tragedy of their decision, especially after counsel provided by a local expert Paul Sannerud. The eventual destruction of Winona’s scenery would make this 1931 model even more significant as it depicted the scope of Masonic degree productions.

Winona, Minnesota. 15th degree for the Scottish Rite.
Winona, Minnesota. York rite scene.
Winona, Minnesota. York Rite scene.

Each of Moses’ model settings was complete with set pieces that could accompany the scenes. The whole set up was quite impressive and I thought of the viewing rooms for clients at other studios that were pictured in various catalogues when business boomed during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This was obviously a model that could be shipped, yet was possibly intended for wherever Landis would set up an office, even if it were independent of a rented studio space.
Moses’ drops showed a new generation of designs, specifically including early prototypes that he painted for Scottish Rite installations during the mid- to late- 1920s.

 

Model room for clients at Great Western Stage Equipment Company in Kansas City.

By November 1923, the executive offices of Sosman and Landis had moved from 417 South Clinton Street to 6751 Sheridan Road. The Sosman & Landis Company sent out letters to past clients clarifying that their company had not been purchased by another studio and that Thomas G. Moses was still their Art Director. The studio that now used the old Sosman & Landis space on Clinton street was “The Chicago Studios.”

1923 letter from the Sosman & Landis Company stating that they are still in business.
The Chicago Studios letterhead with offices at Clinton Street, the old Sosman & Landis studio.

Moses’ 1931 model included earlier compositions created for the Scottish Rites in Fort Scott, Kansas (1924) and McAlester, Oklahoma (1929). These were two jobs solely painted by Moses, his assistant, and a carpenter. During the scenery restoration at the McAlester Scottish Rite, I was amazed with the “Rebuilding of the Temple” scene, complete with a massive scaffolding structure entirely netted in a cut drop that measured 40’ high by almost 60’ wide. Then I identified several compositions in Moses’ model that I had encountered in Fort Scott. His 1931 creation was intended as an entirely new standard for staging degree productions.

As previously mentioned, the stage settings for Fort Scott did not always include a final backdrop, common to most Scottish Rite scenes. Most Fort Scott settings were created with leg drops, cut drops and the painted cyclorama for a distant landscape. This created a stage picture of vast depth and at the time I had been fascinated with his continued use of a wrap-around cyclorama. In many cases, there was only an 8” fabric strip at the top of each cut drop that hung from the top batten. Moses’ 1931 model also included a painted cyclorama that set up behind the hanging designs and surrounded the drops, creating an extremely effective scenic illusion. This was one of the aspects that I was trying to include at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center when I was let go as it would make the acquisition even more unique.

I started to think about the modern stagecraft and sheer volume of space presented on stages – especially for dance in the 1920s. Was this Moses’ attempt to replicate some of the stylistic tendencies associated with the commercial stage at the time? To rejuvenate Scottish Rite degree productions across the country with something slightly new?

This attempt had been made by Sosman & Landis once before, starting in 1908. At that time they started to sell many Scottish Rite Valleys a second collection, replacing the original ones.

To be continued…