--October 21, 2016.
After languishing forgotten for decades in the basement of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Stanstead, a rare and unusual artefact now has a new home at the Stanstead Historical Society's Colby-Curtis Museum, just two kilometres away.
The artefact, or rather, the work of art, is actually a 29-foot wide grand drape (complete with its original wooden roll) depicting Owl's Head Mountain and Lake Memphremagog. It was painted by the Canadian scenic artist William Gill (1854-1943).
A grand drape is the decorative curtain that would be raised and lowered on the audience side of the stage, at the beginning and end of performances or individual acts during plays. Gill's curtain features a splendid view of Memphremagog from a beach on the east side of the lake, framed by tasseled trompe-l'oeil curtains. The name "Memphremagog" appears at the centre edge; the signature "Wm Gill," in the bottom left corner. A small steam launch chugs across the placid water; sailboats are visible in the distance; a rowboat sits idle on the beach.
Gill was born in England but immigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his family when he was a small child. When his father died, he was just fourteen. According to the theatre historians Dianne and Patrick O'Neill, Gill "found employment as an usher in the Temperance Hall and the Theatre Royal. Observing and studying under various scenic artists... Gill mastered the techniques of the scenic artist and acquired a local reputation painting sets for amateur productions." [...]
The complete story of this fantastic artefact is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of Quebec Heritage News magazine, available now. To subscribe, click here!