Except for that old curtain, I never really thought about theater curtains until I found an article on a rediscovered theater curtain in Deerfield. It is currently undergoing restoration. That article led me to a link to Curtains Without Borders, which is devoted to old painted theater curtains in town halls and other buildings, primarily in New England. I had vaguely heard about itinerant painters in New England who created such works, but I never realized that there were so many still in existence! Some of them are downright gorgeous!
Here's a little information about Curtains Without Borders:
Curtains Without Borders is a conservation project dedicated to documenting and preserving historic painted scenery. The painted curtains are found in town halls, grange halls, theaters and opera houses. They were created between 1890 and 1940, although on rare occasions, pieces painted after 1940 are also included in our inventories.I'm not often stumped in an attempt to tie a post to an item or items in our collection, but today I am! I'll just direct you to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, and to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance News [MAG NEW] in our magazine area.
Vermont was the first state to pay attention to these reminders of a time when even the smallest village halls held local variety shows or school performances and many towns were visited by traveling troupes of players, opera companies, vaudeville singers, and itinerant musicians. Between 1880 and 1940, painted scenery (primarily roll drops, with a few "fly" scenes) was especially popular in northern New England and the upper Midwest. Unfortunately, many were discarded as they became worn and dirty, as tastes changed and as many theaters became movie houses. However, in Vermont, curtains were often bundled up with baling twine, stashed in ceiling crawl spaces or shoved under the stage. By bringing the scenery back into public view and giving it new life with stabilization of the fabric, paint and support systems, we hope to encourage the continued use of our cultural, social and political centers.
In 2008/2009, Curtains Without Borders and the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance collaborated on a survey to locate and document New Hampshire's collection of historic scenery. Over 140 pieces have now been documented.
Photo of the "Grand Drape" in Hillsborough courtesy Historic Hillsborough, New Hampshire. This site has a fascinating history of the curtain in the photo.