A new statewide search for historic painted scenery is now underway in Maine. These local treasures were created between 1890 and about 1940, the heyday of vaudeville, and are still to be found in town halls, grange halls, opera houses and community theaters. They often contain richly painted drapery, countryside, or street scenes. They are usually “roll drops” on wooden or metal rollers and they often feature advertisements for local businesses such as dairies, piano movers, car dealers and beauty parlors. With the arrival of movies and then television, the use of town halls and grange halls as cultural centers declined, and after World War II, the tradition of creating painted roll drops simply disappeared. However, much of the historic scenery remains either on stage or in storage, sometimes in good condition but more often neglected, torn and very dirty.

Many of the same itinerant painters and scenic studios that created scenery in Maine also sold scenery in New Hampshire and Vermont, where 185 pieces have been found through a similar search.

In Maine, more than a dozen historic scenes have been stabilized by Curtains Without Borders, a team of conservators who developed their survey and conservation skills in Vermont. The Gardiner Library, the granges in Benton and Windsor, and the Searsport Town Hall are examples where restored scenery is now on display.

This search is a joint project of Curtains Without Borders and Maine Preservation, which supports local efforts to preserve and revive the buildings that house historic scenery. Funding has been provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Maine Community Foundation. Another partner in this effort to locate and document Maine’s historic scenery is the Maine State Grange. For more information and to contribute any information, please call Christine Hadsel at 802-598-5867 or email: curtainswithoutborders@gmail.com.