Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Victory in Scottsville

Here is an art restoration memory from childhood.  When I was five years old, I decided to save everybody’s turkey bones after our Thanksgiving meal.  My goal was to reconstruct the bird’s skeleton.  I had visions of an impressive structure, something on the order of the Tyrannosaurus rex on display in the entry hall of Chicago’s Field Museum.  The task was much more frustrating than I expected and the bones ended up in a heap. This memory came back to me when we  began restoration of a large, ornate mirror that was discovered during the rehabilitation of Scottsville’s Victory Hall. It must have been the bag of tiny wooden pieces that did it.
                Scottsville, Virginia is a picturesque town situated on the James River in central Virginia.  Its three-block long business district boasts one drug store, a discount store, a variety of craft shops and restaurants. It is a tough place to run a business since it’s so far from the interstate and the road leading into town from Charlottesville is a winding, two-lane affair.  As a result, stores go out of business at an unsettling rate.  Paradoxically,  this remoteness and small town atmosphere are two of Scottsville’s main attractions and many new residents have arrived in the last decade, escaping cities and suburbia.  Both the new and old Scottsvillians (and by old I mean long-standing, not aged) would like to rely less on Charlottesville (25 miles away) for shopping and cultural pursuits.  And so, the reopening of the Victory Hall as a theater and cultural center coincided with Scottsville’s aspiration to be a town with its own identity.
The building was constructed  in the 1920’s and served as a theater for  movies and live performances. According to long-time resident Robert Spencer, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline both performed there. (The Daily Progress, “Mirror, mirror on the wall…”, David Maurer,  September 18, 2003). In the 1960’s, the theater closed and at some point its entrance was replaced by garage doors to accommodate fire trucks.   Amazingly, during the years it served as fire station and later, the rescue squad headquarters, a large mirror (5 feet by 7 feet), remained hidden in the back of a storage closet. Finally, in 2003, when the rescue squad moved out and work was begun to restore Victory Hall as a theater, the mirror was discovered.  It was battered and discolored from mould. The perennial flooding of the James  had taken its toll on the mirror, as it had on many of the town's homes and businesses.  Besides the discoloration, close to half of the carving had broken off. Fortunately, the glass was intact.

Had the mirror been hung in the lobby during the theatre’s heyday ? Did Patsy Cline arrange her hair in its reflection as columnist David Maurer imagined ?  Its large dimensions and ornate decoration seem appropriate for a theatre, but  nobody could remember seeing it in the lobby. Nevertheless, the Victory Theatre Restoration Committee supported restoration of the mirror as soon as they discovered it.   They intended to hang it in the lobby when work was completed and that’s where it resides now. 
In one respect, the reconstruction of the mirror was simpler than that of my Thanksgiving turkey.  The places where the decoration had been attached were considerably darker than the rest of the wood.  It was a matter then of placing the right fragment in the right silhouette.  Once the salvageable shapes were glued into place, we made molds of several of the extant motifs that were repeated (but absent) in other parts of the mirror.  Some areas were made by modeling and carving epoxy putty.  After all of the pieces were assembled, my husband William Lapham, a specialist in faux painting, grained the new areas and blended them with the original parts.  

                           A detail of the mirror after completion.

The other day I was selling snacks in Victory Theatre lobby during a performance of Langdon Mason’s “On the Air.”  A Scottsville resident, Mr. Mason composed the music, wrote the script and played piano during the performances.  Each of the five performances was a sell-out, or nearly so.  Scottsville’s dream of local culture has certainly come true, with local talent and a welcoming, flexible space for live entertainment and films. Victory Hall is now the home of the the Scottsville Center for Art and Nature
As I handed out Mars Bars and poured hot cider I would occasionally glance at the mirror.  We haven’t spent much time together, the mirror and I,  since I restored it in 2007.  I have to say it’s aging better than I am.  My consolation is that I myself haven’t had any work done. 

                                                           The mirror in the Victory Hall lobby.

1 comment:

  1. Stefanie, what a beautiful mirror and what a beautiful restoration job you did! I also enjoyed reading your blog account. I am picturing you trying to assemble your turkey, and I am laughing.