The Biggs Museum will open a new exhibit Friday that examines one Delawarean's life-long obsession with the theater as seen through the eyes of another Delaware native, Kendall Messick.
Gordon Brinckle was a quiet Army man who settled in Middletown after World War II when the local movie house, The Everett Theatre, offered him a job. He started as the doorman, which seems like a mundane assignment, but for Brinckle, it seemed like the perfect entry to the world of theater that he loved. Eventually, Brinckle became the theater's projectionist, a position he would hold for 33 years.
Like many people, Brinckle's job defined him. People recognized him as the projectionist and likewise "the movie man," as he was often called, took a lot of pride in his position. But, he also dreamed of more. And, for him, more meant his own theater. But, in 1959, a projectionist's salary made theater ownership seem like a lofty dream at best. So, Brinckle took matters into his own hands and began building his own theater on a piece of prime real estate with low overhead: his basement.
He named it The Shalimar, and it was a masterpiece of crimson walls, colorful detailing, golden tassels, footlights, a miniature Kimball organ, a ticket office, a projection room and working curtains.
Because of his shy nature, the whole setup might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the inquisitive nature of a neighbor. Kendall Messick grew up across the street from Brinckle and a quick peek inside stayed with him well into adulthood.
Messick grew up to be a documentary filmmaker and a photographer. In 2001, he returned home with a vague memory of what was hidden in his neighbor's home.
"Like an usher, he escorted me down the basement staircase that day, and everywhere I looked there were intricate details in the design and decoration of the theater that spoke of Gordon's obsession," Messick said. "The drapes, valances, movie theater paraphernalia and original painting techniques combined with elements such as Gordon's little Kimball organ at the base of the stage were all evidence of an artistic vision that was uniquely original."
Biggs Museum Curator Ryan Grover said the scale of Brinckle's artistic vision alone is amazing but he's also in awe of Messick's talents as well.
"I have enormous respect for Kendall Messicks's artistic vision and his skill as a photographer and videographer," said Grover. "Outsider artist installations and the whole concept of the artful environment that Kendall saw in Gordon Brinckle's work is mesmerizing to me. I just love the notion."
Grover's interest and respect is helping to shape the exhibit, a show that is intricate and intimate, and will give visitors a chance to get to know the Brinckle that Messick knew.
"First, visitors are going to be presented with these really sumptuous photographs of Gordon Brinckle and his theater that were taken by Kendall Messick," said Grover. "Then, as you go further into the exhibition, you come across the theater, which we recreated to look just as it did in his basement."
Grover added that Brincke's own designs will also be included in the theater recreation.
"He had been creating his ideal theater since the 1920s and 1930s and he had designs for everything from ticket-taker costumes and theater uniforms to marquee designs," Grover said. "He was just so in love with this idea of designing a theater and he explored it with a lot of different mediums.
The final piece of the exhibit is Messick's documentary about Brincke, which will play on a loop in the theater.
Messick said his documentary, "The Projectionist," is an exploration of one of society's marginalized individuals that mainstream society would never otherwise know. It is an interest that developed thanks to his own feelings of growing up feeling like an outsider.
"I honed an ability to listen and developed a fascination with the storytelling of individuals of an advanced age," said Messick.
Storytelling, particularly localized storytelling, is part of what piqued the interest of the Biggs Museum and why Brinckle and Messick's visions are being put on display.
"The museum is here to shed light and tell stories about artwork that is important to Delawareans and we want to protect stories like this," Grover said. "This was such an amazing large-scale project that was by a Delaware native and of a Delaware native. It's a perfect fit."
EXHIBIT PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHTS
The Biggs Museum goes to great pains to include activities and programs that relate to its exhibits. Here are a few that will be included with "The Projectionist." For more information, visit the Biggs Museum's website.
Friday, March 1 Opening Reception starts at 5 p.m. The free event is open to the public and will feature the entire exhibit, from photographs to the documentary. Kendall Messick will also attend the opening to discuss his work and its star, Gordon Brinckle
Saturday, March 23 Delaware resident Gina Scarnati will visit from Los Angeles to discuss "Costume Design and Wardrobe in Film." Scarnati has worked as a costume craftsperson on blockbuster films like "The Hunger Games," "Snow White & the Huntsman" and the hit HBO series "True Blood." The event is free and open to the public.
Friday, May 3 More Delaware storytellers are examined with a night of short film screenings. See six contemporary filmmakers' interpretations of cinematic genius. The event is free and open to all ages of the public.