Winona has to decide what history to sell

The Winona Fine Arts Commission is in a tough spot. It’s got 100 historical works of art, and it has to decide which 90 it’ll have to sell off. It can only afford to save 10.

They are theater backdrops, once stored high in the rafters above the stage in the historic Masonic theater, ready to be dropped for whatever scene is called for in the show below. They harken back to the early 1900s, when even the smallest towns built theaters for opera.

Scenic painting is a dying art and much of the history is near death. The condition of the backdrops has deteriorated because of a leaky roof, and there isn’t money to fix and hang them all.

So the Fine Arts Commission is asking for help to decide which 10 will be saved, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports today.

The drops are one of the reasons the southeastern Minnesota theater is on the National Register of Historic Places. The city is trying to restore the theater to its previous glory, but a new rigging system can only hang so many backdrops, which run the gamut, from heaven…

… to hell…

… and all the burning bushes in between.

“Once the 10 are chosen, we’d consider having a public auction for the others,” Lee Gundersheimer, arts and culture coordinator for Winona, tells the paper.

The full catalog of drops is posted here. The Commission is asking for people to help decide which 10 to save.

  • Anna

    These backdrops are really interesting and some are in better condition than others. I can understand why the city can’t afford to restore all of them as it would be a major undertaking.

    A great glimpse into the past and how people got their entertainment in small towns before the days of television, streaming video and motion pictures.

  • Mike Worcester

    And I would be willing to bet that they will not get for them nearly what they hope to in terms of price. It’s a niche market for sure and those pieces are large and cumbersome.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    If these are part of what get the historic designation for the theater, I’d hope that some philanthropist would team up with an art or history museum to buy the collection. (Particularly if the money goes into the renovation of the theater.) Then hopefully the museum could restore those drops that can be restored over a longer period of time and put them on limited display.