Museum unable to display priceless work
July 19, 2006
Some pages in history are bigger than others, in this case 10 feet long and 17 feet tall.
A backcloth that hung in the Egyptian Theatre during the 1930’s was donated to the Park City Museum last year by the Deffebach family and displays hand painted advertisements from over a dozen local businesses during that time. The Kimball Garage advertises itself as "warm air heated" and "fire proof." Coffee John’s offers patrons a place to buy, "eats and sweets, beer, fishing, tackle and licenses."
Many of the businesses have Main Street addresses, such as the mortuary at 190 Main, and advertise their three-digit phone numbers on the backcloth.
"I think it gives you a sense of place and time," Curator of Collections and Exhibits Wendy Ashton said.
To date, the museum has not been able to put it on display for lack of space and money. Ashton said the upcoming remodel should help remedy part of the problem but funding also prevents them from sharing it with the community, something Ashton said she would really like to do.
"It’s such a signature piece that is just Park City no other place has the same piece. It’s priceless and one-of-a-kind," Ashton said.
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The backcloth was most likely put up in front of the movie screen before and after shows at the Egyptian Theatre, she said. Use at the theatre, and the passage of over 50 years has taken a toll on the backcloth. According to a conservator the museum hired it would cost $57.26 per square foot to conserve, or approximately $10,000.
The ‘signature piece’ in need of costly restoration is, unsigned. Portions where the artists name might have appeared, such as the bottom edge, are frayed. Research Historian for the Park City Museum Hal Compton guessed it might have been done by Ray Fletcher, a sign painter in the area during the 1930’s.
"But we have no way of knowing for sure," Compton said.
The artist remains a mystery but it is not a secret which of the businesses on the backcloth is the oldest.
The Oak, a saloon which opened in 1902 and burned down in the 1970’s is prominently advertised on the right hand side of the canvas. Ashton said the establishment kept enough money on hand to cash paychecks for the local miners on pay day.
Some businesses such as Utah Power and Light and First Security Bank of Utah are still around today, others some people have long since faded from memory.
Compton said he is familiar with all the businesses but one, Coffee Cup Café on 310 Main.
Amid the cluster of business advertisements is a centerpiece that pictures a sailboat floating on calm water with mountains rising up in the background.
"A lot of times it would be something that connects to the town, or something highly stylized," Ashton said, noting that many theatres of the day hung similar backcloths.
Slightly above the landscape, at the top center is an advertisement for the Egyptian Theatre, where the backcloth hung, and the American Theatre. Ashton said the businesses, just three doors away from each other, were owned by the same person. The text of the ad reads, "Enjoyment for young and old."
Just as the theatre wanted to be available to all, Ashton said she wants the backcloth to be something the whole community can enjoy.