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…

 

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