Russell Smith Curtain



Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. was Proud to Present
A Lecture on Russell Smith by Mr. David Rowland
August 1, 2013


"...the curtain and its exhibition to the audience was the occasion of much applause. The scene pictured upon the drop curtain is designed to represent the voyage of the chief persons of the ancient cities to an island in the Aegean Sea, upon which stands one of the many celebrated temples dedicated to Apollo for the purpose of sacrificing and consulting the oracle previous to opening of the Olympic Games, a great event in the social and religious life of that remarkable people. The supposed occasion affords a large scope for the artistic effect and Mr. Smith, the painter, seems to have made the best use of the capabilities of his subject."


- Daily Journal Octoboer 13, 1858


History of the Russell Smith Drop Curtain


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The original front curtain was painted on canvas by Russell Smith of Philadelphia. It was revealed to the public on Thalian Hall's opening night - October 12, 1858.  It was a gift of Donald McRae, E.D. Hall, O.S. Baldwin, George Myers, and L.A. Hart.  We now know that the price was $200.  That was large sum, given that the entire cost to build the theatre was only $17,815. 



It served as the Main Drape until the 1904/1909 renovations of the theatre. By 1909 the proscenium had been increased from 28' to 32'.  There is a reference to the drop in an article stating that S. A. Schloss, the leaseholder at that time on the Thalian Hall, then known as the Academy of Music, was going to restore the curtain.  It appears that at that point, additional canvas was added to the sides of the drop and were painted to look like stage curtains.



The curtain was taken down and put aside at some point after 1909. In 1932, a brief article states that the curtain was found in storage in one of the rooms of the Public Library, then located on the second floor of City Hall.



The full curtain was photographed hanging on the stage and appeared in a magazine called The Municipal News in 1938.



Following the PWA renovation of the theatre, the bottom half of the curtain showing most of the detail was used as a front border in the theatre. A photograph taken in 1947 shows it in place.  It is believed that it suffered damage during the PWA work in the theatre which took place between 1939-1941.



In 1962, The Wilmington College Drama Department, under the Direction of Doug Swink, and the Thalian Association joined forces to co-produce theatre in Thalian Hall until 1968.  Around 1963, Swink unfolded the curtain and had it photographed.  



Tony Rivenbark was hired by the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. in 1979.  By that time, the curtain had disappeared from sight.  Rivenbark was giving a slide show to the Historic Wilmington Foundation and stated, when showing the 1963 photo, that it was a shame the curtain had lasted over a 100 years and now was gone.   After the talk, Juanita Menick, who was the president of the Thalian Association, said that an old curtain had been taken to their home for safe keeping.  This turned out to be the original curtain and it was returned to the Hall.  Only about 15 feet remain of the 30' curtain, but it is still intact with just a few tears.  Much of the pigment remains and the primary detail is still visible. 



The curtain was displayed in 1980 as part of a historic exhibit and then in 1983 it was used as part of the set for the original musical called Remembered Nights that was produced for the 125th Anniversary of the opening of Thalian Hall.   



For the renovation and expansion that begun in 1988, a small staircase built in 1954 to the first balcony was removed.  That created enough space to hang the curtain in the old lobby. Since then, several options have been considered for the restoration of the original or the creation of a replica that could be used on the stage.  In early 2016, the curtain will be displayed in a special exhibit at the Cameron Art Museum on the work of Russell Smith.


Tony Rivenbark