Grange history has a lot to do with the existence of the full-color hand-painted stage curtains. In protecting the culture of rural life and the rituals of agricultural-based living, the Grange was the place to host meetings, dances, lectures and classes, and other social events. These large, beautiful works of art—alternately called stage, theatre or drop curtains—supported the rituals and literally served as the backdrop to popular culture of the time and earlier Vaudeville era, and illustrated a community’s identity and favorite scenes.
In some instances, the large hand-painted canvases promoted advertising for local business. Salesmen would travel ahead of the painters to sell advertising for the curtain sections in this way paying for the paintings.
“It’s the way we used to do some of our advertising. Today, of course, you have televisions and radio,” says Ennio Gerini. He remembers delivering groceries to homes all over the area during the 1930s, but he never knew his father purchased advertising space on the curtains until he visited Goshen to view the curtains for the first time.
Gerini’s Market is one of he many businesses featured on the Hillsborough “Street Scene” advertising curtain.
Painted by itinerant artists who were part of the rural cultural scene from after the Civil War until just before World War II, the quality of the work on these historical and beautiful works of art varied depending on the talent and sophistication of the artist. For example, the “Twin Bridges” painter was the well-known Arthur Ives. You can see his signature mark in the bottom right of the curtain.
The Hillsborough Grange was located on Main Street upstairs in the building that now houses the Central Square Ice Cream Shoppe and German John’s. It was organized on June 26, 1875 with 36 Charter members. On December 31, 1886 they peaked with 90 members. In 1920, the last year listed in the Grange Roster, there were 30 members.
“We hear a lot about the early history of the town—the first meeting house and such—but the theatre curtains were part of the Grange movement that was really trying to support agriculture in Hillsborough and throughout New Hampshire,” says Shattuck. “The Grange was part of that and these curtains were part of the local thread of the organization, so the rediscovery of the curtains provides a bit of insight to that time.”
“Each one is different and each town is rightfully proud of their own, whether grand or simple,” says Hadsel. “Each village or grange hall or group of people has a vested interest.”