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Restoring the Grand Drape in the Paris Hill Academy Building

 At the spring cleanup in May, several workers remarked that we should look into restoring the rolled up Grand Drape on the stage of the second floor.  Mike Brogan and Linda Richardson collaborated on contacting the company who did a previous estimate of our drape, and the story takes off from there.

Mike contacted Curtains without Borders and talked extensively with Christine Hadsel, Director.  Photos of our curtain, and the stage were sent, and Christine remembered doing the estimate. She proposed a site visit to reassess the condition and make recommendations about restoration.  Since we are scheduling some ceiling work, Christine said it would be best if the drape were removed.

Arrangements were made for Christine to visit, and a crew was assembled to take down the drape with her supervision and properly store it for restoration in the future. Crew members were:  Mike Brogan, Jeff Richardson, Peter Roy,  Linda Richardson and Cathy Richardson.

Much to the surprise of the Community Club our Grand Drape is signed and dated.  This was news to everyone.  The artist is CA Henry and the date is 1892. 

I had lots of questions, and conducted an online interview with Christine.  Here are the questions and answers:

  1. What can you tell us about the artist?

Charles A. Henry (1845- c.1920?) – Charles Henry, not to be confused with Charles W. Henry of Vermont, had a small scenic studio in Boston.  His curtains are found in Moretown, VT, Paris, ME. and Wilmot, NH

An advertisement in the Boston City Directory of 1905 says that his studio “Designs, Manufactures and  Decorates all kinds of Theatrical Work. Theaters and Halls Fitted Up.  Scenery and Stage Properties To Let.”

From Curtains without Borders website:   Check out this site for more photos of restored curtains in New England.

2.  How were these artists trained?

Scenic artists were a mixture of self-taught and apprenticed at large studios.  Some of the  artists began painting advertisements and some ended that way.   Some were portrait and landscape artists, but most were not.  These painters hauled their supplies from town to town and created  magical worlds for small towns and villages.

3. What makes a Grand Drape special?

A Grand Drapes the most important curtain on the stage, whether it is the only one or part of a set.  It hangs right behind the proscenium arch and includes painted drapery, since there were no cloth drapes at that time.  It is usually a romanic, European-style scene, like the one on your drape.   These European themes depicted the romance of long ago and far way.  The scene is set within a painted (usually stenciled) frame and the “drapes” are pulled aside by unseen hands to show the painting.  

NOTE.  We have three of the four side panels that would have been onstage when the drape was up for performances.  These  side panels provided depth and access points for the actors to enter and depart  the scene.  We will have the three repainted and a fourth constructed. 

4.  Can you give a brief description of the process that will be applied to our drape?

Basically, we will clean and mend the curtain and reinforce all four edges, since the edges are where most tears start.  Then we will reattach the curtain to a sandwich of wood at the top and the original roller at the bottom.  We will make a tail at the bottom that will be stapled directly onto the wood.  We will reuse the original pullies, provide new ropes and a new cleat and then supervise reinstalling it at the back of the arch.

5.  What is the most unusual painting you  have restored?

The drape we are working on this summer is at Lisbon Town Hall.  It’s a party scene with musicians and all the ads in balloons.  We restored an almost identical curtain in Canaan, VT.  Both curtains were done by Lucretia Rogers, on the three women scenic artists who all knew each other in the 1930s.

6.  What should we do once the drape is restored?

Christine recommends carefully rolling the drape back up and only unrolling for special occasions.  She also advised getting some regular drapes that cover full arch to further protect the Grand Drape. 

Rosemary Losso was kind enough to donate materials and time to fabricate a temporary drape while the repairs occur.  They will be sewn together and hemmed this summer. Many thanks to all involved and to Curtains Without Borders for their work and guidance!

I found a wonderful article on line about Christine Hadley’s work in New England. It’s in the Yankee Magazine  September 2016 issue.  Worth reading to fully understand the value of these curtains in modern times and the work she has done to restore them.

 The Community Club Board has approved the restoration and work will begin some time next spring.    

Thanks to Janet Brogan for contributing this story!