Grand Drape at the Hyde Park Opera House, Vermont, with its scene of the Natural Bridge in Virginia, by Charles Andrus.
On a recent Vermont vacation we visited the Hyde Park Opera House where we saw a performance of Frank Loesser’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” put on by the Lamoille County Players. And while I enjoyed the plot and music of this 1960s vintage musical, what caught my attention was the painted curtain drape hiding the stage.
According to VermontVacation.com: “Between 1880 and World War II, painted theater curtains were artistic features of most New England villages and towns. In Vermont, painted curtains graced stages in town and grange halls, opera houses, and community theaters.”
The painted theater curtain brought me back to a time when Americans did not spend their evenings huddled around the blue glow of the television set or computer screen, but instead gathered with their neighbors and friends at the local theater, grange hall or opera house for community entertainment, often performed by friends and neighbors.
Interestingly the Grand Drape at the Hyde Park Opera House was painted with an image of Virginia’s Natural Bridge. But why choose an image from Virginia when Vermont abounds with natural wonders?
The website of the Lamoille County Players sheds some light on this issue:
“For the people of Hyde Park perhaps the most exciting and gratifying aspect of the new Town Hail, besides its attractive Georgian Revival design, was the art work done inside the opera house by the artist Charles Hardin Andrus (1851-1924). Born in Enosburg Falls Mr. Andrus enjoyed a long career as a painter of large murals, theater curtains, frescoes, trade cards, and commercial signs. At the Town Hall he was charged with painting a curtain with a local scene. During the months of January, February and March Andrus did paint a tremendous scene on the curtain but its subject was only partially local. The scene he used was the Natural Bridge at West Virginia with Vermont’s Killington Mountain in the background. The story of his reaction to criticism of his using a non-Vermont scene when Vermont has so much scenery to offer was ‘The Natural Bridge is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and this Opera House is the Eighth’. Very little more needed be said.”
In their heyday there were known 175 painted curtains in Vermont. A conservation project to preserve Vermont’s historic painted scenery was begun in 1996 with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Check out these beautiful painted curtains.
A description of stage curtains and their uses can be found at the website of Sew What? Inc.
Oh, and the Japanese curtains? Apparently painted stage curtains weren’t limited to the United States. Go here to learn more about the Grand Drapes of Japan.