BRATTLEBORO -- Christine Hadsel, director of the Burlington-based nonprofit organization Curtains Without Borders, gives a presentation on Vermont’s historic stage scenery at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $5, free for BMAC members and children under 6. Reservations are not required.
Hadsel’s presentation is offered in connection with the new BMAC exhibit, "Suspended Worlds: Vermont’s Historic Scenic Curtains," which opened Oct. 3 and runs through Dec. 2. The exhibit consists of photographs by Carolyn L. Bates of Vermont’s historic stage scenery and a 100-year-old painted backdrop from southern Vermont.
Vermont has an astonishing collection of public art in the form of painted theatrical scenery created between 1890 and 1940. These theater curtains (primarily muslin rolldrops, not "velvet" drapery curtains) hang in town halls, grange halls and opera houses all over the state.
A century ago, grand drapes and painted backdrops were the primary artistic feature in the cultural life of almost every village and town in northern New England. The "curtains" provided color and escapism in institutions that varied greatly in size and professional capacity. The scenery was permanently installed, available as set backdrops for traveling troupes, speakers, locally-produced variety shows and various societies and clubs. In Vermont, three-quarters of the painted theater curtains were made for town halls, where politics, education, social occasions and entertainment all took place in one central building with a stage.
During the last 15 years, the Curtains Without Borders team of conservators and their assistants has stabilized 182 historic theater curtains in Vermont. Most of the curtains have been re-installed for use or display on their home stages, but in order to protect them from light, dirt, and inadvertent mishandling, they are generally kept rolled up except for special occasions.
The museum’s exhibits and gift shop are open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students. Members and children under 6 are admitted free. Located in Union Station at the intersection of Main Street and Routes 119 and 142, the museum is wheelchair-accessible. For more information, call 802-257-0124 or visit www.brattleboromuseum.org.