Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 98

Part 98: It’s All in the Details

John C Becker & Bro. sent out three final contracts to the Valley of Moline on February 17, 1930. The first contract proposed the stage equipment, draperies and scenery for the Moline Scottish Rite Cathedral stage that would give “a very good scenic background” for the degrees.

Moline Scottish Rite Cathedral’s front entrance.
View of fly loft at the back of the Moline Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1930.
Moline Scottish Rite auditorium with cathedral scene.

The new size of drops for the Moline stage measured 24’ high by 41’ wide. Leg drops were to graduate in width from 6’ to 9’ on full stage sets of three legs. All leg drops with profile edges were to be “re-enforced with strips of galvanized iron rosined on the back to prevent curling and getting out of shape.” This was an interesting technique that I had never come across before in either Sosman & Landis or Volland installations. The standard method to prevent curling edges was to attach thin pieces of wood. The studios typically used painted strips to attach the wooden slats along the cut edge. Paul Sannerud and I marveled at the success of this particular technique during the scenery evaluation. Over the decades it had successfully held up to the rigors of use in degree productions. The contract also stipulated that all exterior leg drops would be netted with linen netting.

Galvanized iron strip attached to cut drop to prevent curling edges. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.
Patches on backdrop securing galvanized iron strips to leg drop at the Moline Scottish Rite. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.

The theatrical lumber was to be the best straight grain White Pine available. The canvas would be of the “heaviest unbleached cotton sheeting.” The paints and dyes used to produce the scenery were to be of “the best and most durable quality.” Furthermore, the painting would be produced by “high class artists of their respective kind.” The agreement stipulated that Union labor would be used throughout the entire process.

Ruined Abbey scene at the Moline Scottish Rite. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.
Detail of the Ruined Abbey scene at the Moline Scottish Rite. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.
Detail of the Ruined Abbey scene at the Moline Scottish Rite. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.

The scenic equipment included a front curtain, working (or second) draperies, sets of lines, side tabs, black setting, rope sets, border light equipment, pin rail and painted scenery for the 6, 10, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 24, and 32 degrees. These settings included King Solomon’s Chamber, the Quarry, a Mountain landscape, an interior corridor, the ruins, a Gothic scrim, a crucifixion cut drop, an ascension drop, an interior scrim, a seascape, a Valley Forge scene, a Temple drop, and a palace drop. They would also enlarge and refurbish existing scenes owned by Moline that included compositions of the the woods, Cyrus’ Palace, a treasure chamber, catacombs, Hades, the Tabernacle, and a cathedral. All were to be delivered and installed in “first class condition” with markings for convenient handling. Furthermore, the installers would work with the stage crew at a rehearsal so that they will be able to handle the scenery effectively. The final price for this particular contract was $12,000 and an additional $2000 for installation services.

The second contract included additional scenery to stage the 5, 9, 12, 19, 21, 22, and 27 degrees. These compositions included the Holy City, an open-air court, the five orders of architecture, a Rose Croix transparency, a ruined abbey, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. Becker wrote, “Gentlemen: We propose the following listed of scenery in addition to the original listed on this date, subject to the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association raising the sum of Two Thousand Dollars from the sale of windows in the Cathedral.” This meant that the funds raised for the stained glass windows would be re-directed toward additional scenery. It was common in many Scottish Rite buildings for Masonic Classes or individuals to contribute funds to the creation and installation of Memorial windows.

One memorial window in the Moline Scottish Rite auditorium. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.
Detail of one memorial window in Moline Scottish Rite auditorium. Photo by Wendy Waszut-Barrett.

A third contract was enclosed with the first two, recommending additional scenery that Becker personally recommended for the Valley of Moline. He was desperately trying to recoup some of the studio’s losses incurred over the past five years of consultation. I can’t blame him at this point. The accompanying letter to the contract stated that “the very essentials of equipment and scenery had been carefully selected to provide a very fair layout,” but he suggested additional scenery to complete the first two contracts. This third proposal added standard designs for the 4, 7, 10, 14, 29, 30, 31 and 32 degrees, including a picture sheet and a floor cloth to accompany these painted settings.

The third contract was never signed.

To be continued…

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