- Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

WINONA, Minn. (AP) - A city in southeastern Minnesota is removing 98 rare hand-painted scenic theater backdrops from display and storing them indefinitely.

The decision stems from an engineer’s report that determined the rigging system was dangerous, the Winona Daily News (http://bit.ly/1nC2L7b ) reported. The city of Winona opted to remove the drops from its Masonic Temple because it doesn’t have the funds to spend on a multimillion-dollar repair project.

It’s estimated a replacement rigging system would cost around $2 million, plus renovations to the aging temple and repairs to some of the dilapidated drops. Restoring the artwork could likely cost anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000.

A volunteer group has formed to help Winona decide the future of the historic drops. Starting in the mid-1800s, towns started opening opera houses that featured similar sets.

“Everything about it from the rigging to the drops is so rare,” said Mason Paul Lundquist.

Very few locations throughout the country still have a full set of scenic drops and rigging system. Winona also has many of the stage props built to go along with the scenes, which is even rarer.

Paul Sannerud, board chairman at Winona’s Theatre Du Mississippi, said the city’s drops also represent an important period in theatrical history. He said the style of art is similar to that of 15th-century Italy.

“When you look at a whole scene from front to back it’s just absolutely takes your breath away,” Lundquist said. “It’s just something you have to see to get the full impact of. The artistry is just amazing.”

On Monday afternoon, the Masonic Temple is holding an open house to give the public a chance to view some of the drops before they’re put away.

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Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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