Part 330: Stock Scenery
In 1895, Thomas G. Moses left Sosman & Landis and worked independently as a freelance artist. He was listed as the official scenic artist for the Schiller Theatre, but also rented the old Waverly Theatre to complete other projects. Sosman & Landis used the Waverly as a second studio from 1892 to 1893. Projects that Moses worked on in 1895 included “Little Robinson Crusoe,” “Ben-Hur,” “Mexico,” “Said Pasha,” “Mistress Betty,” “The Witch,” “Rip Van Winkle,” “Richard III,” “Hamlet,” “Faust,” and the pyro-spectacle “Storming of Vicksburg.”
In addition to the abovementioned shows and other Schiller Theatre productions, Moses completed numerous stock scenery collections for theaters and opera houses nationwide in 1895, including the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio; the Lowell Opera House in Massachusetts; the Avenue Theatre in Pittsburg; the Broad Ripple Theatre in Indianapolis; the Hillsboro Theatre in Waterbury, Connecticut; and the Opera House in Racine, Wisconsin. The amount of scenery produced under Moses’ direct supervision as an independent contractor in 1895 is staggering. In the next few posts I will be examining the individual theaters and and the characteristics of each venue.
It is interesting to look at what was offered to a variety of venues in terms of stock scenery. Although Moses was no longer working for Sosman & Landis, he knew their formula and what was required to outfit theaters, regardless of the size. The 1894-1895 Sosman & Landis catalogue divided stock scenery installations into three categories: traveling combinations, small opera houses and halls, and ordinary halls.
Set No. 1 was for traveling combinations. These would be the larger performance venues that booked headliners and large-scale productions. Stock scenery for these stages included a drop curtain and at least eight backdrops depicting a fancy parlor scene, plain chamber scene, prison scene, wood scene, garden scene, street scene, rocky pass scene, and ocean view scene. In addition to the drops, there were 4 parlor wings, 4 kitchen wings, 6 wood wings, 2 front wings (tormentors), 1 grand drapery border, 3 sky borders, 3 set rocks, 3 set waters and 1 set cottage. In some cases, the parlor scene and kitchen settings were delivered as an interior box set; 4×8 flats that were lashed together with cord and cleats. Occasionally the interior flats were double-painted with a fancy interior on one side and a rustic interior on the backside.
There is need to clarify a few other terms detailed in the 1894-1895 Sosman & Landis catalogue too. Tormentor wings depicted painted columns with an “elaborate base and rich drapery at the top and side.” These wings were stationary ones that were set three or four feet back of and parallel with drop curtain. The grand drapery border was painted to represent rich and massive drapery that matched the drapery on the tormentor wings.
Set No. 2 was for smaller venues, such as 200-500 seat opera houses and halls. Their stock settings included 1 drop curtain and five drops: parlor scene, kitchen scene, street scene, prison scene, and wood scene. In addition to the backdrops, there were 4 parlor wings, 4 kitchen wings, 4 wood wings, 2 front wings (tormentors), 1 grand drapery border, 2 sky borders, 3 set rocks, 3 set waters and 1 set cottage.
Set No. 3 was intended for limited spaces, such as an ordinary meeting hall for a social or fraternal organization. This option included 1 drop curtain and following drops: parlor scene, kitchen scene, street scene, and wood scene. In addition to the drops, there were 4 interior wings, 4 exterior wings, 2 front wings (tormentors), 1 grand drapery border, 2 front borders, and 2 sky borders.
The catalogue noted that the scenery was created with “extra heavy material painted in bright durable colors, by the best skilled Scenic Painters, and are warranted strictly first-class in every particular.” By 1894, Sosman & Landis advertised, “over 4,000 places of amusement are to-day using scenery made by our firm.” From the time that Moses started at the studio, he had been constantly painting and traveling for Sosman & Landis. Many of those projects were his and he was a well-known commodity. It is understandable, that the stock scenery collections he painted, after leaving Sosman & Landis, would have followed the same format as the larger studio; he was familiar with the process and the popular compositions. When Moses went to the Valentine Theatre of Toledo, Ohio, he delivered enough scenery for a combination house.
To be continued…