Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar Acquiring: The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 12 – The Volcano Scene

While Wendy Waszut-Barrett is traveling for research and art acquisitions (October 14-29, 2017) she is reposting the first fifteen installments from “Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar Acquiring: The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.” Here is her twelfth post from February 25, 2017.

 

Part 12: The Volcano Scene 

The 17th degree of the Scottish Rite can be one of the most exciting degree productions on a Masonic stage. Lighting flashes, thunder rumbles, the ground trembles, and a volcano explodes, toppling buildings in the foreground of a painted composition. A red plume of lava shoots into the air, while rivulets of lava stream down the mountainside and gradually spill into a lake. Slowly, the sky and water become a bright blood red.

17th degree scene from Scottish Rite in El Paso, Texas.

The first time I documented this scene was at the Winona Scottish Rite Theatre, were volunteers assisted in successfully presentation.

17th degree setting before volcanic explosion. Scottish Rite scene in Winona, Minnesota. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2010.
17th degree setting after volcanic explosion. Scottish Rite scene in Winona, Minnesota. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2010.
Stage hands working rigging for the collapse of painted structures in the 17th degree setting during the volcanic explosion. Scottish Rite scene in Winona, Minnesota. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2010.

This scene is often labeled “17th degree Vision” and could include a variety of scenic effects, all dependent on the amount of money that the client was willing to invest. The Fort Scott scene was like Winona and quite elaborate, using netting, transparencies, translucencies, and a variety of rigging mechanisms to lower painted panels on the front of the cut drop.

The staging relates to the breaking of the seven seals in the Book of Revelations. Cataclysmic events occur and a variety of painted visions are magically revealed in transparent sections of the composition. Fort Scott had five small drops for the visions.

Fort Scott Scottish Rite 17th degree setting before revelation of a vision drop. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.
Fort Scott Scottish Rite 17th degree setting after revelation of a vision drop. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, November 2015.

These small paintings were almost always the work of an inexperienced artist as it was a perfect opportunity for them to show their skills in drawing and figure painting. If it really was a horrific end product, it wouldn’t matter due to its placement on stage, plus the dim lighting would conceal most of the flaws.

Painted detail from vision drop in Winona Scottish Rite collection. photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, August 2014.

I have often wondered whether these small scenic art projects were the work of the owner’s nephew at Sosman & Landis Studio. Over the years, I have stumbled across comments concerning this familial relation who was constantly given an opportunity to prove his artist ability and consistently failed. This might have been the perfect project to prevent him from ruining the remainder of any Masonic installation.

In my mind I imagine the following dialogue:

Artist 1: What are we going to have him paint this time? He doesn’t seem to be getting any better and he’s so slow!

Artist 2: Give him the Vision drops again.

Artist 1: But he can’t paint figures and it will take him forever!?!?

Artist 2: I know, but at least it will keep him busy and you can’t see much of the painting during the degree anyway.

Artist 1: Well, the art does represent the end of the world.

Painted detail from 17th degree vision scene at Winona, Minnesota. Note placement of breasts, hair, and size of hands in this poorly drawn figure. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, August 2014.

In the past, I have posted painted details of anatomical oddities from various Vision scene figures: breasts that were placed just below the collar bone, hair that defied gravity, hands that were unbelievably large, and faces with unnatural eye placement. Similarly, figures from the York Rite’s Sepulcher scene were often sporadic in terms of quality too. I frequently post these details with my standard comment,” and this is why drawing classes are important in scenic art training!”

The two Marys at the empty tomb encounter this angel. Sepulcher scene for York Rite degree at Winona, Minnesota.

The figures for Fort Scott were an interesting mixture of skill, but very inconsistent. I was reminded of the Vision scenes in Winona, Minnesota where one was “okay” and four were “pretty awful.” Although Thomas Moses was not a fabulous figure painter, I wondered if his onsite assistant was responsible for these paintings.

To be continued…

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