Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar Acquiring: The Fort Scott Scenery for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 15 – Raising Hell

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 fifteenth post from February 28, 2017.

Part 15: Raising Hell

Many Scottish Rite degrees can be narrowed down to three instructions: follow directions, respect others, and do the right thing. Doesn’t sound much like devil worship, does it? That being said, Scottish Rite Valleys are reluctant to show one particular stage setting to the general public – Hell. Throughout the country the composition is also referred to as Hades, the Dante drop, or the Inferno scene.

A simple explanation for the inclusion of this subject is that the scene depicts the fate for those who fall prey to temptation. It reinforces WHY you want to do the right thing. “Be a good person” doesn’t always work. “Be a good person or this terrible thing will happen to you” provides incentive. The setting often includes one cut drop and a backdrop, sometimes two cut drops for added depth and scenic effect.

Fort Scott Scottish Rite backdrop for Eighteenth degree. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2015.
Fort Scott Scottish Rite second cut drop for Eighteenth degree. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2015.
Fort Scott Scottish Rite first cut drop for Eighteenth degree. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2015.

Compositions frequently include a variety of demons and tortured humans.

Painted detail from Hell backdrop for the Yankton, South Dakota, Scottish Rite. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2014.

Very seldom did the scene remain as a red cave, but that is the case in a few Valleys, including McAlester, Oklahoma. Fort Scott included one of the most popular depictions and was NOT painted by Thomas Moses in 1924. This scene was painted much earlier in 1904 and enlarged to fit the Fort Scott space during the 1924 installation.

Top third of Hell scene backdrop during removal from Fort Scott Scottish Rite in 2015. Note the fabric additions on top and stage right side for an enlarged theater space. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2015.

It matches the same scene used in other Scottish Rite theatres, including Grand Forks, ND, St. Paul, MN, and Santa Fe, NM. It was a stock design, and a shiny one at that, being replicated multiple times during the first two decades of the twentieth century. But what makes this scene special? What is the visual appeal? The sparkles.

Detail of foil strips on Fort Scott Scottish Rite Hell scene. Photograph by Wendy Waszut-Barrett, 2015.

The hell scene used foil paper strips to outline many of the figures and rocky outcrops. Why? It was a scenic illusion to reflect the fiery pits of hell. As the drop would slightly move, the crinkled foil strips would reflect the light and sparkle, thus creating the appearance of flickering firelight.

Pretty cool effect, but very labor intensive. Especially when you consider attaching each strip with glue after having already spent a significant amount of time attaching the netting to the cut drops. It was an expensive scene to purchase. Refurbishing the hell scene in 1924 would have saved a significant amount of money for the Fort Scott Scottish Rite and a significant amount of time for Thomas G. Moses.

This is one of the scenes that make evaluations and restorations a delight. People always want their picture taken with this setting – especially if there is an entire group. The caption reads, “Work is Hell.” But then there also is hanging the restored of the scene and shouting “Let’s raise hell!” Or the response you give to your spouse when he asks, “How was work today?” and you respond, “It was hell.”

To be continued…

 

 

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