by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) board member and theatrical rigging expert Paul Sannerud has been a leader in the push to save the Masonic Temple’s historic collection of hand-painted backdrops. He has also been a supporter of Mike Slaggie’s proposal. As people were leaving city hall after Monday night’s meeting, he offered to buy the drops from the city. He offered city staff $1,000 for the complete set of 98 — a price that is not out-of-line with the sales of similar historic drops. City Council members had already brought up the idea of selling the drops instead of restoring them all.
“The reason I put forward a proposal to buy them is because I’m interested in preserving them,” Sannerud said in an interview on Thursday. “I don’t think there’s going to be enough support to really make an effort to do the kind of restoration that I might want to see done. So I’m willing to buy them and start looking for other kinds of restoration opportunities because I just think they’re valuable in and of themselves and down the road there might be people who are interested in having the actual artifacts.”
Sannerud has been a leader of the Friends of the Masonic, a citizen group that urged city leaders to save the drops, and he has helped put the historic drops to use in TdM productions. During a discussion late last month about how the city should overhaul the temple’s stage, he encouraged the City Council to err on the side of saving more drops, advocating for an option that would have kept 25 drops on the stage. He added, however, a caveat that the success of Slaggie’s proposal was more important, because funding for the arts is crucial.
In an interview, Sannerud further explained his reasoning for the purchase offer: “[The drops] seem to be a sticking point for going forward with the Hurry Back proposal — which, at this point, is off the table, so whether my offer to buy has any bearing on it or not, I don’t know. But I sat there in the council meeting, and I thought if we took the drops out of the equation, we could move forward very quickly with the revitalization.”
When the city sells public property, it is required to open the sale to any interested party.
If the city sold the drops to him, Sannerud said that for the foreseeable future, he would simply store the drops. “My intention is to store them until such time as we can figure out some solution to them,” he stated. Sannerud said he and the rigging expert the city considered hiring to restore the drops could complete the work to restore the drops themselves. With a full-time job, Sannerud is too busy for that now, but maybe in the future he could. It is also possible that student studying set design might be interesting in restoring some of the drops as an educational project, he said, and perhaps other funders would come forward in the future. Once the drops were restored, Sannerud said that down the road, perhaps whoever was operating the Masonic would be open to having some of the drops return to the stage. Otherwise, maybe other venues or museums would be interested, he stated. “I care about them,” Sannerud said. “I just happen to have the kind of expertise and background that if I took care of them, they would be taken care of well,” he added.
“I think this council needs to consider all of its options,” Mayor Mark Peterson said of Sannerud’s offer. “I’ve spent my entire career saving history and artifacts, and I think I have a strong interest in saving these drops if possible and utilizing these in the Masonic Temple if we can.”