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Our view: Masonic Temple backdrops worth saving

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It doesn't sound bad to say that a rare piece of art more than 100 years old needs about $15,000 worth of restoration.

Heck, it almost sounds reasonable.

Unless, of course, you have about 100 rare, old pieces of art, all in need of restoration.

But that's the case with the Winona's city-owned Masonic Temple backdrops.

The turn-of-the-20th-century backdrops have been a part of the Temple for presumably nearly as long as the building itself. They came with the building when the city bought the property in 1979.

But 100 years of literal wear and tear have taken their toll. And now the full restoration of the backdrops will take almost $1.5 million.

We'd argue this is art worth saving.

There are almost 100 unique backdrops that have been saved through indifference. That's right, because no one needed the space that badly and no one felt a push for modern backdrops, they remained. And they survived.

But continued indifference may mean we continue to lose the backdrops as they deteriorate.

Now is the time to make sure we can keep and showcase these delightful pieces of art.

Winona is, after all, a community that values art. We have two universities with art programs. We are the home of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum as well as the Winona Arts Center.

We are a community that cares about art. So let's turn our focus to these.

The city shouldn't have to go this one alone.

We have expertise in the community. We have universities and philanthropists.

What kind of partnerships could be formed? What kind of collaboration could we come up with?

Who out there wants to adopt the project?

Restoring these backdrops is, admittedly, tricky.

Few have the expertise to work with backdrops and

few still work with these pigments and glue.

And that's even more the reasons why these historical backdrops should be preserved: They are examples of rarities.

These drops were never meant to be art, per se. They were practical art - built for a purpose and even disposable.

But we've seen posters, playbills, calendars and all sorts of other ephemera become nearly priceless because it was art that others threw away.

The backdrops are no different.

Most theaters have purged these period backdrops.

That's why saving them is so important - because they're not everyday items anymore.

We also agree that with the extraordinarily tight city budget, we can't expect the city's taxpayers to pick up the tab for restoring such treasures.

We support the city creation of a fund to save them, and we're grateful the city hasn't made the knee-jerk decision to pitch them.

We love art.

We also love our own unique history. These backdrops are a part of Winona's rich past.

So if not for love of art,

what about saving part of Winona?

We hope Winonans, even in these tough economic times, can reach deeply and donate to such a worthy cause. The burden will have to be borne by private citizens.

Then, if we can restore these breathtaking backdrops, let's figure out a way we can prominently use them for the city to appreciate and enjoy.

By Darrell Ehrlick, editor, on behalf of the Winona Daily News editorial board, which also includes publisher Rusty Cunningham and deputy editor Jerome Christenson. To comment, call (507) 453-3507

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