BHSU students assist with Matthews Opera House curtain restoration

Volunteers view a historic curtain in need of restoration at the Matthews Opera House in Spearfish. BHSU student volunteers had the opportunity to assist the restoration effort and gain valuable skills. Photo Credit: Matthews Opera House

A community project to restore antique curtains at the Matthews Opera House in Spearfish was an opportunity for Black Hills State University students to give back to the community while being immersed in local history and learning interesting skills. With guidance from a team of conservators from Curtains Without Borders, two historic curtains were revived and will last for years to come.

The two BHSU volunteers, Kate Woten and Vivian Redinger, are members of the BHSU Honors program. Woten, senior professional accountancy major from Potter, Neb., appreciated the advice and direction from the Curtains Without Borders team. "To think that what you are touching is over 120 years old and that you are a part of preserving and restoring it carefully and correctly was really amazing," said Woten.

Across the country, century-old backdrops and scenery hangings eventually became replaced by movie theatre screens or discarded as they became dirty and frayed. In an age of fast, digital production for large-scale art, the history and process behind restoring antique theatre art is interesting for BHSU freshman Redinger, graphic design major from Willow Lake. As a volunteer for the project, she learned first-hand that these pieces needed more than just some paint touch-ups. "It was really interesting," said Redinger. "Those curtains have lasted a long time and I didn't know all of the work that goes into restoring them."

Woten encourages students to seek opportunities off-campus. "We need to remember that we are part of a bigger community," said Woten. "There are ways that we can reach out and use what we are learning in college to help the community."

Students who are interested in enhancing their college experience with community engagement can find many opportunities to volunteer. "I would recommend to look and find ways to get involved," said Redinger. "It's interesting to meet the people who do the work that you are studying in school." Other ways to find experiences off-campus are to join clubs and groups that provide a bridge between campus and the community.

For Woten, it was more than just learning how to preserve a piece of the past. "It's definitely enhanced my respect for what is out there.  Who would think that one of the canvases in an opera house in Spearfish, South Dakota, would be that old and would be that valuable?"

Student experiences like the restoration project can be fun as well as beneficial for the future. Learning about the history of the community was enlightening for Woten. "It shows that you can find hidden treasures anywhere and everywhere," she said. "You just have to go look for them."

BHSU has a legacy of preparing students in the arts and just recently added a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a greater concentration of art courses than other art degrees and is the "highly sought by degree-seeking studio artists.