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Artifacts of Vermont's Vaudeville Era

Theater curtain from Cambridge, Vt., which now hangs in the town's elementary school.
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Theater curtain from Cambridge, Vt., which now hangs in the town's elementary school.
The Brownington, Vt., curtain is a painting of Lake Willoughby.
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The Brownington, Vt., curtain is a painting of Lake Willoughby.
The curtain in Westminister, Vt., portrays a Roman chariot race.
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The curtain in Westminister, Vt., portrays a Roman chariot race.

A group of experts and volunteers in Vermont are returning some lost luster to old theater curtains found throughout the state.

So far, the Vermont Painted Theater Curtain Project has collected over 120 curtains of these hand-painted, full-color canvas curtains dating to vaudeville-era early 1900s.

For decades, these treasures were rolled up and left to mildew in Grange halls and town centers across the state.

But project director Christine Hadsel says the curtains "are remarkable pieces of evidence of the time when rural culture was just exploding... people were traveling all over, bringing vaudeville, bringing magic lantern shows, bringing all kinds of things to small towns."

According to Hadsel, townspeople "would pay to have a front curtain painted which basically set the atmosphere."

She tells NPR's Scott Simon that the painted scenes portray a "mixture of specific romantic or historical scenes or the more generic or local scenes.

But sometimes there is a Roman chariot race, or there's a Venetian boat scene or an imaginary castle."

Hadsell doesn't expect to find many more of the curtains. But she says she will continue to "knock on doors" when traveling the state, just in case.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.