MIAMI — One of the oldest artifacts in the Coleman Theatre — a painted backdrop — is getting some tender loving care.
Anne Murray Chilton, a textile conservator with Murray Conservation Services of Midwest City, is heading up the project at Miami’s crown jewel that is marking its 90th anniversary in 2019.
Chilton said there is damage in the lower corners and several big tears at the top. But most importantly, she said there is minimal water damage.
“It (the drop) has survived the years quite well,” she said. “It looks a little worn, but it’s actually in fairly decent shape. Once we get the tears reinforced, it should hang for another 60 or 70 years.”
She said it was stored in the fly — the space above the stage used to store scenery — and “everybody thought it was missing.”
It measures 29 feet by 40 feet.
“They were replacing the ropes in the fly system (in the early 1980s),” new Coleman managing director Danny Dillon said. “There are 29 of them and they were bringing every one of them down. It happened to be flying and they recognized it from the photographs from opening night.
“We all were (surprised there wasn’t major water damage). Completely. It was just a miracle is all I can say because it should have. Everything else had water damage or mold. Lots of moisture got in.”
Built for its namesake, mining magnate George Coleman, the theater was billed as the most elaborate between Dallas and Kansas City, Missouri, upon it’s opening on Aug. 25, 1929.
The Coleman Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and has hosted vaudeville acts, musical groups and movies.
It’s served as the home of the Miami Little Theatre and has been used by local schools for their seasonal performances.
Chilton anticipates that the project, which also includes gently vacuuming the front and back, will take most of the month.
She said she’s been doing this type work for more than 20 years.
She has a Master’s Degree in art history and advanced certificate in conservation from the New York University Institute of Fine Arts.
Chilton has worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian and Museum of American History and was part of the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project that spanned 15 years.
She went freelance after that in the Washington, D.C., area then moved back to Oklahoma City to be closer to family.
Since then, some of her clients have been the Oklahoma History Center and National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore and World War II Museum in New Orleans.
This is the first big theater curtain she has done.
“I have worked on other textile things this big, though,” Chilton said. “I am a generalist in the textile preservation field, so I have done flags, teepees, anything…”
Primarily her time here will be devoted to the drop, but she also was going to look around and see what other fabric repairs should be done.
While there are several hundred nationwide, she is one of only three art conservators in Oklahoma.
“There are two women in Oklahoma City that are object conservators,” Chilton said. “They work on statues and ceramics. I work on some furniture with the upholstery, some wood. I have done ceramics, some paintings, but my specialty is textiles: uniforms and flags.”
This is her first time to visit the Coleman.
“One of the board of directors on the Oklahoma Railway Museum in Oklahoma City (of which she is the administrator), is from the Commerce area and he always told me ‘you need to come up and see the Coleman Theatre.’ Every time we came through, it was a Sunday,” Chilton said. “Then I got the call for this and I said ‘Well Bob (her husband), I am going to see a whole lot of the Coleman.’”