LACONIA — City residents came face to face with a piece of their past Wednesday evening when the scenic stage curtain that once hung in Moulton Opera House was unveiled after a month-long restoration.
Robert Drier did the honors to unfurl the 30-foot by 11-foot canvas which now covers one wall of the second-floor exhibition area of the Laconia Public Library.
Brenda Kean, the executive director of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society, said the drape which features the romantic painting "Morning on the Nile," was a precious relic of the opera house, built in 1886 and demolished in 1970. "It was lost to Urban Renewal and until now we had nothing to show for (that historic building)," Kean said after the formalities of an unveiling ceremony which was attended by about 75 people, including Mayor Ed Engler and City Councilor Armand Bolduc.
The part of the drape which is now on display is about one half of the original curtain which measures 30 feet by 20 feet. But fortunately the part that is now hanging is the curtain's centerpiece. It depicts a scene on the Nile near Cairo in the morning sunlight. The Pyramids are visible in the background, while a barge carrying passengers and camels prepares to push off from shore.
Kean said the curtain will be on display for one week after which it will be again rolled up for safe keeping. But Kean said there are plans to show it again as part of an exhibit being planned for next April.
Christine Hadsel, executive director of Vermont-based Curtains Without Borders, has called the drape "the most exquisite curtain I have ever seen," and told guests at the reception the scene depicted was "more romantic and more bizarre than most.'
Hadsel said that 130 historic stage curtains are known to exist in New Hampshire, of which 45 have been conserved.
Wednesday's unveiling was an especially emotional moment for Cheryl Dunn, whose mother, Barbara Dunn, bought the contents of the Moulton Opera House from John O'Shea, then the owner of O'Shea's Department Store which occupied much of the Moulton Opera House building on Main Street. Mrs. Dunn had the chandelier, box seats, wrought iron railings, ticket window and other furnishings removed and put into storage. However, she was not planning save the drape until Cheryl, then 15, boldly and bluntly insisted she do so. The drape was then rolled up and stored in barn behind a house on Pleasant Street where it remained untouched until a year ago when efforts that led to its restoration began.
"This is truly moving. I haven't seen it for more than 45 years," Dunn said.
Kean said the Historical and Museum Society received $16,000 from the New Hampshire Conservation License Plate (Moose Plate) Program for the restoration effort. She especially thanked Taylor Community and a number of local restaurants which donated services which enabled the society to keep the restoration project within the $16,000 budget. Kean also thanked the volunteers who helped with the project.
Earlier this year Wayne Fletcher, who moved the drape from the Moulton Opera House to the Pleasant Street barn in 1970, and Don Houle, the current owner of the Pleasant Street residence, helped to move the drape from the barn (with the help of a boom truck from Boulia-Gorrell Lumber Co.) to the library's Rotary Hall, where the actual restoration work took place.
Hadsel said the drape was in remarkably good shape, considering its age. She said that restorers had to restitch some of the seams that had become undone and some touch-up work was need on parts of the canvas that suffered water damage.
"Morning on the Nile" was painted with water-based paints, Hadsel said. It is the work of Eugene Cramer who managed an opera house in Columbia, S.C.
Warren Huse, a local historian and treasurer of the Historical and Museum Society, theorized that Cramer may have been commissioned to do the Moulton Opera House drape after John C. Moulton, a banker and industrialist, might have seen Cramer's work on the drape in the Columbia opera house while Moulton was traveling in the South where he owned a number of mills.
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