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Around The Grange
Historic Benton Grange (Maine) curtain being restored

By Scott Monroe, Morning Sentinel, Waterville, ME (6/8/10)

  JUNE 15, 2010 --

An 80-year-old stage curtain at the Benton Grange (Maine) is set to be taken down, cleaned and restored in the coming days.

It will be the latest of hundreds of historic painted curtains that have been spruced up across New England during the last nine years through the Curtains Without Borders conservation project.

The project's director, Christine Hadsel, of Burlington, VT, said she and her crew from the Vermont State Museum were set to work on the Benton Grange curtain today and Tuesday. During their Maine trip, the crew is also restoring curtains in Gardiner and Salisbury Cove in Acadia, Hadsel said.

Benton's hand-painted curtain was created by the Wood Brothers, of Springfield, MA, and depicts a generic tree scene with a gray car in the center, surrounded on the borders by advertisements for tractors, beauty parlors and funeral homes. It is about 20 feet wide by 10 feet tall.

The Wood Brothers "were a known standard purveyor of curtains for Grange halls. They didn't do town halls; they didn't do opera houses; they did Grange halls," Hadsel said.

"The nice thing about Benton is they have a nice little Grange hall that's in good shape," Hadsel continued. "And it's used and appreciated as an active building. So, it's very nice to be going there."

The project's stop in Benton has been coordinated by Grange member Rick Lawrence.

"These curtains are in town halls and schools, where towns had a stage," Lawrence said. "Some had layers and were quite remarkable."

Hadsel said her group's work is groundbreaking because it involves restoring curtains in the spots where they're hung, instead of sending them away to professional restoration laboratories. They vacuum and clean them, and patch and mend holes or rips where needed, making them "good for another lifetime." Some, if they're in really bad shape, need to be wrapped up for storage, she said.

It takes an average of three days to restore the curtains and a cost of about $5,000 each. The group doesn't charge for the work -- it's supported by grants and foundations -- but they do require local volunteers to help with carpentry and other tasks.

As a result, her group's work is "a low-tech alternative, using volunteers, to the sort of high-end laboratory approach, which is certainly a wonderful thing if people can afford that, but most people can't," Hadsel said.

Already, the curtain group has documented and restored all 185 curtains in Vermont and has identified 130 in New Hampshire.

The group's work in Maine is just beginning, thanks to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Maine Community Foundation, enabling for survey work of all curtains in the state. Hadsel said a half-dozen curtains have been restored in Maine and she hopes the remaining ones can be identified in the next year or two.

The goal, Hadsel said, is to "raise peoples' appreciation for the curtains so they don't let them disappear.

"It's important people understand these curtains are public property," she said. "They belong to the people of each town."

As the group begins surveying curtains in Maine, Hadsel asked that anyone who knows of curtains in their New England town to contact the group by e-mail at: curtainswithoutborders@gmail.com.



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