Suspended Worlds: Vermont’s Historic Scenic Curtains

October 3 - December 1, 2013

Click here for a slideshow of selected images from this exhibit.

Organized by Burlington, Vermont-based Curtains Without Borders, this exhibit consists of photographs 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. Twelve curtains are in grange halls, and four are in opera houses that still have some of their original scenery.

During the last 15 years, the Curtains Without Borders team of Vermont 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. About 15 have been put into storage because they are too fragile or worn to display, or their home stage cannot accommodate them.

Suspended Worlds features large photographs by Carolyn L. Bates, a Burlington photographer, information about some of the artists and the conservation process, and an actual historic painted curtain.

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Curtains Without Borders
October 10, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.