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  • Writer's pictureLaurie Swigart


By Peter S. Miller, THE PAINTER’S JOURNEL, Fall 200

In addition to painting two-dimensional backdrops and flats, scenic artists are often called upon to create unique three-dimensional objects. During the many years I have worked in opera, theatre, television, and film, I have made trees, rock formations, stone fireplaces, caves, snow banks, icicles, fish, tropical plant-life, statues, fountains, candles with nine-foot wax drips, a mass grave, and a variety of architectural details and ornaments including keystones, capitals, and cartouches. The most commonly used material is Styrofoam, but depending upon the requirements of a specific job, other products may also be employed. In some instances, when duplicates are needed, mold-making and casting techniques come into play.

I consider these three-dimensional jobs to be some of the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of our work and wanted to share some of these projects with the hope that other scenic artists and students might find the methods and materials used useful in their work. When appropriate, I indulge in a bit of historical background and terminology, since this is another part of our work that interests me.

More than a decade ago, I painted the scenery for The Wolf Trap Opera Company’s production of Bioachino Rossini’s rarely performed work Il Viaggio a Rheims (The Journey to Rheims). The set was an ornate hotel lobby interior, with a central archway framed by two pilasters surmounted by Corinthian capitals. At that time, resources were limited and although the set was finished by opening night, I was embarrassed by the capitals –

a rush job completed in the hours before the first dress rehearsal. The show opened, ran, closed, and was consigned to the dumpster, but those capitals continue to haunt me.

Almost ten years later, the production was revived with the same designer, Alan Moyer, and a modified by more elaborate set. Although no longer the charge, I continued to work at Wolf Trap in a “guest artist” capacity. With more time and money available, I was determined to do a better job on those capitals!

The first order of business was to find good research. Although the drafting indicated a pair of Corinthian capitals, the half-inch scale drawing was not very detailed: more information was needed to produce the best results.

Perhaps a brief detour into architectural history is in order for those readers who are unfamiliar with Corinthian pilaster capitals.

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