A Glimpse of History
The latest combination maintenance-restoration project on the Tibbits Opera House has the historic theatre filled with scaffolding as they make ceiling repairs and create a sampling of the original decorative paint.
Taking advantage of a rare break in the performance schedule, Tibbits is undergoing repairs, mainly to the ceiling and dome. While the repairs are relatively minor, it required massive scaffolding to reach the 40-foot high ceiling. As long as the scaffolding was in place, Evergreene Architectural Arts is doing some additional exploration into the original color scheme and recreating a paint sample of what the theatre would have looked like in 1882.
At the same time Grand River Builders, the company responsible for exterior brick and metal restoration work, are repairing the grate in the center of the dome. While the grate was well secured, it’s broken and bent pieces looked precarious. The entire piece has been removed and the metal craftsmen are reforming the metal, welding the breaks and stripping multiple layers of paint.
The main reason for the work was to patch the ceiling where plaster had fallen. Tibbits staff brought down all of the loose plaster but it left an unsightly blank area in the ceiling. Ed Magee of Evergreene has patched the ceiling and is creating the paint sample. Patching the ceiling was not extensive and Magee also secured the plaster around the patch. He then recreated the texture of the plaster to match the surrounding area allowing it to blend.
The process of the decorative paint includes layering the paint with a base coat upon which more colors and more detail are added. The decorative paint sample starts at the center of the dome and extends through the dome, across the ceiling, through a portion of the wall, and down the proscenium arch including the downstage columns of the box seats. For nearly 50 years audiences have seen pretty basic colors, cream or white across the entire ceiling with some gold painted accents and of course the red wall paper. The sample reveals a much more vibrant and rich color scheme. The paint sample reflects the same elegance and detail of Tibbits’ exterior.
Over the past two weeks, historic details of the 133-year-old theatre have emerged under a puzzle of scaffolding, metal pipes and planks. According to Christine Delaney, Tibbits executive director, “We’re creating a sliver of the past to help people visualize the potential, and understand the ultimate goal of preserving and restoring the theatre.” She adds, “There is so much more to do, I hope the community finds this sample inspiring.”
Scaffolding was installed by Bracy & Jahr Inc. Masonry Contractors immediately following the last show in December. Actual work began January 5 and will be completed in time for the theatre’s next show, Parrots of the Caribbean on January 24 part of Ice Fest weekend.
Tibbits received funding for the project from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Additional funding came from Michigan Gas Utilities and supporters of Tibbits Restoration. For more information on Tibbits and the restoration project call 517-278-6029 or visit www.Tibbits.org.