Thanks to the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts Claremont Opera House will restore and reinstall the historic, original grand drape, hand-painted canvas that served as the main stage curtain when the opera house opened over 119 years ago in 1897. COH also hopes to restore the two hand-painted canvas drapery panels or “legs” that stood on either side of the drape and four original forest scene legs.
This is the only original grand drape in NH known to be still in the possession of the opera house that commissioned its creation. COH drape was painted by Maxwell Alexander of Boston, a little-documented, journeyman scenery painter who worked throughout New England. Few of his works have survived. He originally painted seven scenes for COH. The drape has fared better over time than the other surviving three which are severely damaged. Fragments of the woodland scene are available for future restoration.
Few original grand drapes have survived at all in New Hampshire. After years of furling and unfurling, being stretched by heavy weights at the bottom when opened, and decades of neglect as live performance venues were replaced by movie theaters and television, most drapes wore out and were discarded. Others disintegrated in storage.
COH has been more fortunate. When restoration work began on the opera house in 1979 they found the drape to be faded but it was still viable. It has been carefully stored and in 1993 COH engaged an art restoration specialist to stabilize it by backing it with muslin to keep the original canvas from tearing or decaying, then sealing it. Although much of the paint has become brittle and some has flaked away enough remains to still display the original colors and forms.
However, the stored drape and legs continue to deteriorate with time. The sooner these rare artifacts are restored, the greater chance that the public can experience them as they were in their original grandeur.
John Bennett, Vice President of the board of COH and one of those who was instrumental in saving the theater back in the seventies is excited to finally see his dream of restoring the curtain come true thanks to the NH State Council on the Arts Mooseplate Grant. The process, which will begin with warmer weather in the spring, should be interesting. Stay tuned. COH plans to document the process with photos and video.