MJ Davis paints over a creased area as Mary Richardson works on repairing a tear in the fabric (Bill Binder photo).

Restoration of Opera House’s 1897 Grand Drape Underway

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Bill Binder

Few Original Hand-Painted Grand Curtains Remain

Restoration of the Claremont Opera House’s “Grand Drape” is underway. The grand drape was first hung in the opera house in 1897. It is a large panel of cloth, hand painted, which hung at the front of the stage between other curtains to hide the stage before and during the show. Claremont’s drape is 17’6” high by 33’2” wide. 

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The drape has been in storage for over 35 years and is in rough shape due to creases, water damage and being handled and stored. It is being reconstructed by the non-profit organization, Curtains Without Borders, of Burlington, VT. Project Director Chris Hadsel, paint conservator MJ Davis, and Mary Richardson started working on the item last week by unrolling the curtain and vacuuming and cleaning it. From there, they have been repairing the rips, tears, holes and torn edges of the curtain. Faded or badly creased areas are getting a paint over. The process essentially is preserving painted historic scenery.  

Panoramic of the COH's grand drape (Bill Binder photo).

This is the only original grand drape in the state known to still be housed by 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.  

Funding for the restoration came from the NH Moose Plate Program.


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