- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP) - Curators who travel the country studying and preserving early American theater artifacts are in Colorado, reviving memories of the days when the Denver suburb of Westminster was known for apple orchards and dairy farms and its Grange Hall was the heart of the community.

On Wednesday, Burlington, Vermont-based Christine Hadsel, who directs a group of conservators called Curtains Without Borders, noted the blocks of advertising hand-painted on the hall’s 70-year-old theater curtain. None of the seed and supply companies, family-owned pharmacies or other advertisers remains in business, their buildings taken over by art galleries and chain stores.

The length of muslin draped over cafeteria tables to be dusted and patched under Hadsel’s supervision is “a snapshot of what was going on and who was doing it,” she said.

The Westminster hall, built in 1912, was home to the local chapter of a national rural community organization started just after the Civil War. Frugal Grange members raised money for the curtains by selling the advertising. Hadsel calls them “art by the yard,” and said they also typically feature local scenes, such as a Rocky Mountain vista in Westminster. Curtains would have been rolled up to reveal the historic tableaus that were part of Grange rituals, as well as traveling magicians and other acts, dance bands and plays.

“We know people who met their spouses at the Grange,” Hadsel said. “They were the only place where anything was happening in town.”

Westminster Grange President Gary Shea, a property manager whose grandparents were eastern Colorado farmers, said the hall remains a gathering place, including for community theater productions. But he had been keeping the curtain rolled up and out of the way for fear of seeing it damaged. Hadsel said the curtain would be safe to use for decades after a day of having dust and soot removed with brushes, dry sponges and vacuum cleaners and frayed edges and worn spots repaired with museum-grade patching material.

Not everyone got such good news from Hadsel. A curtain pulled from storage at Denver’s historic Elitch Theatre for her inspection was ruined by damp, she said.

Hadsel and colleague Mary-Jo Davis were brought in by the nonprofit Colorado Preservation Inc. with funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Curtains Without Borders itinerary this week included other Grange halls, opera houses and museums in such places as Aurora, Leadville, Longmont and Silver Plume.

Curtains Without Borders began in 1996 in Vermont and has helped restore scores of theater curtains there and in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island. Hadsel worked on a curtain in Illinois last summer, but the extended Colorado trip is the group’s first major foray since it launched Curtains Nationwide last year with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and others.

Hadsel hopes to schedule a similar excursion to Texas soon. But she doesn’t plan to catalog and restore the nation’s curtains on her own. Instead, she’s working to spur others to form their own networks. Two Denver textile experts got hands-on training with Hadsel Wednesday in Westminster.

“We want to leave some people behind who know what they’re doing,” Hadsel said.

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