News and updates from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Hillside Theatre curtain

Preservation Grant Raises the Curtain at Hillside Theatre

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation | Jan 10, 2023

The Hillside Theatre Curtain is perhaps the most visually powerful piece in the Foundation’s collections. Originally designed by Wright and created by the Taliesin Fellowship as a gift to Wright on his 89th birthday, it captures in its abstract design the rural landscape of the area with Taliesin overlooking the Wisconsin River.

In June of 2020, we wrote about the ongoing efforts to preserve and restore the Hillside Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin focusing on the historic curtain. https://franklloydwright.org/hillside-theatre-curtain-restoration/

Photo by Judith Bromley

An update on those efforts was announced on January 10, 2023, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grants for Art Projects (GAP) award of $20,000 to preserve and prolong the life of the Hillside Theatre Curtain. The grant covers half the cost of installing two sets of protective curtains in front and back of the original curtain. All three curtains will be hung on motorized tracks, helping preserve the Hillside Theatre curtain for display during tours and current and future expanded programming use of the 100-seat theatre to include live music, lectures, and performances.

For the past several years in order to protect the curtain’s delicate yarn and felt surfaces, preservation staff have installed protective sleeves around the curtain each winter. While effective at reducing the impact of environmental hazards, the act of installing the sleeves is difficult and has often resulted in the muslin sleeves rubbing against the curtain, causing some damage in the process. The curtain’s unique structure has required regular attention from noted conservator Harold Mailand, who has worked with the curtain for more than 30 years.

 

protecti sleeves covering curtain

Protective sleeves used to cover the Hillside Theatre curtain

This project replaces the protective sleeves by adding a pair of permanent, protective curtains on tracks in front and back of the historic curtain; motorization of the curtain track to replace the current hand-operated system; and electronic controls.

The protective curtains will provide a light-proof, fire-retardant envelope for the historic curtain, reducing the impact of light exposure, dust, pests, and possible fire or smoke damage. The motorized track will ensure that the curtain opens smoothly and allows it to be controlled remotely from multiple locations, making it easier to use and less likely to be impacted by human handling and error.

performance at Hillside Theatre

These GAP-funded measures will also improve our ability to artfully stage events in the historic theatre, adding to the improvements made by a multi-year Save America’s Treasures* (SAT) project, which will culminate in summer 2023. The SAT project adds two green rooms, backstage storage space, a restroom, a new ADA-accessible pathway, an accessible public restroom, restored interior finishes, and a new HVAC system. We have also received funding for digital recording equipment that will allow us to stream live events, expanding the theatre’s reach beyond its 100 seats.

Frank Lloyd Foundation staff involved in the ongoing work include The Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer Director of Collections and Archives, Margo Stipe, M.A. Art History, who is the Artistic Director for the project. Director of Preservation, Ryan Hewson, M. Arch, is the on-site Project Manager and Collections Coordinator, Kyle Dockery, B.A. Art History will document and coordinate all communications, and upon completion prepare a condition report of the curtain.

Hillside Theatre Curtain on display at Guggenheim Museum

Since its completion in 1956, the curtain has hung continuously in the Hillside Theatre, except for 2009-10, when it was displayed during a Wright exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum at its museums in New York City and Bilbao.

In 1952 the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hillside Playhouse at Taliesin burned down. Wright immediately redesigned a new theatre in the same space, utilizing components of the old building which were not damaged to create a new structure. As part of the overall design for the new building, Wright drew a plan for a 14’x36’ stage curtain in an abstract geometric style. It was executed by members of the Taliesin Fellowship using delicate materials – felt, yarn, and gold lamé – all loosely connected to a white muslin ground that allows each component to sway when the curtain is moved.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation preservation team members include Adam Charles, Construction and Maintenance Manager, and Facilities Technicians Kirk Stenerson and Kevin Dodds, who are responsible for the majority of the physical work being done at the theatre. They are also active participants in the decision-making process.

Caring for the Hillside Theatre Curtain will benefit 25,000+ annual guided tour visitors as well as those who attend performing arts events and lectures held at Hillside.

With the added protections introduced by this new system, the curtain will be preserved for many more years and continue to welcome visitors as the centerpiece of the Hillside Theatre.

To read more about the progress of the Values Based Preservation at Hillside Theatre visit the Taliesin Preservation blog post from December 22, 2022, https://www.taliesinpreservation.org/mindful-restoration-at-hillside-theater/

*Partially funded by the Save America’s Treasures program of the Historic Preservation Fund, National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not constitute endorsement or necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior or U.S. Government.

News and updates from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation