November 29 was a difficult day – not just for me, but also for theatre history and Masonic scholarship. It was a day when I hoped to celebrate a victory with a friend on his birthday.
The Winona Scenery Collection went up for auction and sold for $10,010.00. This was a minuscule fraction of the cost to replace the 73 pieces of this 1909 scenery collection by Sosman & Landis. The scenery is irreplaceable anyway. The bid came in at only ten dollars more than I recommended that my client should spend. I could not advise him to spend any more, even though some of it was going to replace Scottish Rite scenery that had been destroyed years ago. There was too much water damage to justify spending more. I had gathered a coalition of personal representatives and SGIGs from various Scottish Rite Valleys to bid on the Winona scenery. Why? Each Valley could use a portion as it would match their existing collections beautifully and start a new one. It would also stay within the Fraternity. My only current hope is that the scenery as been sold to some other Scottish Rite theatre in need of replacements.
You see every collection that I evaluate and take care of is like a child. I am their advocate. When the City of Winona decided to split up the collection I was devastated and compared it to keeping a teacup and abandoning the remainder of the Royal Doulton collection. I did everything within my power to keep the scenery collection together, or at least ensure that portions of it found their way to a Masonic home. It is possible I failed and only time will tell where the backdrops end up.
The collection was sold by the City of Winona with a representative who never understood what they were losing. Even as I looked the auction description, all of the specifications were wrong. The city sited that the scenery tubes were 36’ long. No, they were 20’ long. The city explained to prospective buyers that the tubes were 2-3’ in diameter. No, they were two or three drops wrapped on 6” rolls. Incompetence? No. Simple apathy. It was a lack of caring for these artifacts that sealed their fate, not ever understanding that they represented a shared cultural heritage between the Fraternity and American Public. It is a loss of epic proportions. I can say no more.
Here is my goodbye to the Winona Scenery Collection…painted details from King Darius’ Festival Palace for the 16th Degree.