West Paris stage curtains adorn Vermont town hall

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WEST PARIS — The stage curtains removed from the former West Paris Grange Hall this past spring have been installed in the Town Hall in Wardsboro, Vt.

In April, volunteers from the Wardsboro Curtain Call group came to the Grange Hall on Church Street and removed the tacks from the roller of the grand drape, packed it and four other drapes into a U-Haul, and took them to their town of about 900 residents in south central Vermont.

The Wardsboro group was organized to find ways to bring the Town Hall stage back to life.

“Our stage was just drab,” Karen Davis said in a telephone interview recently. She said the second-floor stage area of the 1928 hall was storage space for “broken junk” and stacks of old folding chairs.

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“It was just kind of a sad affair. Our mission was to put it back to her former glory,” Davis said. The hall lost its stage curtains 50 years ago.

With the help of Chris Hadsel, director of Curtains Without Borders, the group found the curtains in West Paris. Curtains Without Borders is dedicated to documenting and preserving late 19th century and early 20th century hand-painted scenery throughout New England halls.

The curtains became available when West Paris Grange sold its building to American Legion Post 151.

“Chris was the matchmaker. She brought the two (groups) together,” Davis said.

In preparation for the curtain installation, the stage was cleared of debris, the back wall was painted a dark green to better show the curtains, and the stage floor was refinished.

During the week of Sept. 22, Hadsel and her associates, M.J. Davis and Michele Pagan, led about two dozen volunteers in cleaning, repairing and installing the scenic painted curtains.

They were painted by artist Charles Huiest of Troy, N.Y., around 1890. They include a country scene, a street scene, a “grand drape” landscape scene, two side panels and a valance.

A typical set would include a grand drape, country scene, town scene and two interior scenes. With all of these, actors/performers had just about every variety they’d need for a play or other performance.

Davis said she learned from Hadsel that the scenes were not necessarily meant to represent the town where they were installed, but more likely meant to represent any town in the country.

“Chris’ supposition is that the West Paris Grange placed an order for this set, he painted them in his Troy studio and shipped them to West Paris by rail,” Davis said.

The curtains will generally remain rolled up against the back wall.

“For events we can unroll them and have beautiful scenery in the background,” Davis said.

The curtains will be publicly unveiled Oct. 25 during the annual Gilfeather Turnip Festival.

The festival honors early settler John Gilfeather, who produced his own turnip. Davis said Gilfeather cut the tops and bottoms off his turnips so they could not be reproduced. But the secret of the Gilfeather turnip was discovered by a neighbor who found and saved a small bottle of seeds.

For more information about Wardsboro Curtain Call, email WardsboroCurtainCall@hotmail.com or call 802-896-6810.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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