×

Whately’s historic backdrop to see new life

  • This muslin backdrop, made in 1938 and now owned by the Whately Historical Society, will be restored by Curtains Without Borders and will then be reinstalled behind the stage on the second floor of Whately Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • This muslin backdrop, made in 1938 and now owned by the Whately Historical Society, will be restored by Curtains Without Borders and will then be reinstalled behind the stage on the second floor of Whately Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • This muslin backdrop, made in 1938 and now owned by the Whately Historical Society, will be restored by Curtains Without Borders and will then be reinstalled behind the stage on the second floor of Whately Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE



Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 02, 2019

WHATELY — A painted theater backdrop that once graced the Whately Town Hall stage will soon be ready for its second act.

Painted in 1938 by Robert Naves, who worked for Crystal Arts Studio, the advertising drop curtain will be cleaned, mended and repainted as necessary, thanks to $4,500 townspeople agreed to appropriate and transfer from Community Preservation Act funds. Residents voted overwhelmingly at Annual Town Meeting on April 30 to approve the project.

The muslin backdrop, owned by the Whately Historical Society, an independent not-for-profit organization, will be tended to in September by conservators at Curtains Without Borders, a traveling conservation company based in Burlington, Vermont. Curtains Without Borders Director Chris Hadsel expects the work to take a couple of days.

The work will entail repairing water damage as well as the roller, pulleys and hanging mechanism so the curtain — currently rolled up and stored at the old Center School — can be reinstalled as a backdrop on the stage on the second floor of Whately Town Hall, which had a renovation completed last year.

“It’s mostly plain, old and it’s really dirty,” Hadsel said of the curtain. “It’s not badly torn. There are a few tears on it. There are some water stains from where it got wet when the ceiling leaked.”

She said conservators will work to “minimize the visible damage.”

Robert Naves of the Crystal Arts Studio made individualized curtains for theaters throughout New England. Naves, of Exeter, New Hampshire, was killed in a Jeep accident in China during World War II. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Whately curtain — spanning 16 feet, 9 inches wide and 9 feet, 6 inches high — is decorated with advertisements of area businesses of the 1930s. Some of these businesses, such as LaSalle Florists and Greenhouses (formerly LaSalle’s Whately Gardens) and Fisher’s Garage in South Deerfield are still in existence. Other businesses featured on the curtain include Wolfram Fuel Co., Graves’ Poultry Farm and John F. McNerney Insurance & Bonds.

Crystal Arts Studio was run by Paul Brigham, who started his business in 1935, according to information from his son, Richard P. Brigham, who lives in Framingham. The younger Brigham said his father sold the curtains, secured the advertisements and arranged for various artists for the painting.

He said curtains cost $207 to $374 and usually consisted of 19 to 33 ads, which cost $5 to $25 depending on size and complexity. Eventually, more than 150 of these curtains were sold to local granges and town halls throughout New England.