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.

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