Fabrics that gave an encore performance

It is amazing what one can learn when they pay attention in church. On Sunday, we attended Easter services at First Lutheran Church in Minot, where Pastor Ken Nelson preached an inspiring sermon. The Easter message is full of hope, and as Christians, the empty tomb and grave clothes are the first signs that Jesus Christ has risen.

Now what I did not realize is that the strips of cloth that were used to wrap Jesus’ body had significance. They were created from the undergarments of the high priests. This fabric was considered to be valuable, and thus it was recycled, so to speak, at the secondhand shops of the time. These garments were cut into strips and used to prepare the body for burial; at times these strips were also used for newborns. Hence, the meaning of swaddling cloths takes on a deeper meaning.

This detailed explanation by Pastor Ken had my attention, and it allowed him to deliver a meaningful Easter message. Now, once outside of First Lutheran, I did allow myself to return to the fact that hundreds of years ago the recycling of cloth was important. As you know, for many years now Jan and I have been recycling the fabrics of the former McFarland Auditorium. They, too, have a substance – an impact if you will – for the service they have done, and the many events and changing moments they have witnessed. There is value in saving, reusing and giving new birth to fabrics that could have easily ended up in the landfill.

My first thought of saving the McFarland fabrics came during the final performance held there before it was to be renovated. Jan and I were seated in the balcony, enjoying “The Messiah.” When it was over, I turned to her and mentioned that I needed to check on what was going to be done with the former stage curtains and draperies. I did so the very next day and was granted permission to come and collect them once they were removed. Jared Edwards and his team did a wonderful job of not only collecting the gold moire and assorted screen draperies, as well as the rich burgundy velvet stage curtains, but in folding and placing them on wooden pallets – all 1,800 pounds of them!

The journey for Jan and I began by transporting the fabric to Rugby, where we sorted and cleaned them. Our strips were considerably wider than grave cloths, but nevertheless they were cut into practical strips. From there, we fashioned them into keepsakes ranging from framed pieces with Minot State embroideries, chairs, footstools, benches, bookends, bookmarks, table runners, placemats, dolls, treasure boxes, ornaments and hats. Jan Norsby also assisted, creating purses, and Marilyn Niewoehner designed carpet bags, helping to create the specialized embroidery.

These items have been donated to 10 Minot State University Galas, and to date, through the generous bidding of alumni, faculty and friends of Minot State, they have raised $35,000 for the Alumni Association, which uses the money primarily for student scholarships.

These fabrics may not have been worn by high priests, but they have touched the souls of many in our community and beyond. From my research, the stage curtains were present on Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 1929, when the first annual presentation of “The Messiah” was given by the combined men’s and women’s glee clubs under the direction of Jean Gilbert Jones. Miss Esther V. Fitschen and Mrs. Marjorie Coghlan McFall were the accompanists. Assisting the chorus were the following soloists: soprano, Mrs. J. H. Mackley; mezzo-soprano, Mrs. Dorothy McFarland Thomas; tenor, Mr. Myron Dunnell; and bass, Mr. Jay Paul Hinshaw.

The fabrics were witnesses to the crowning of homecoming queens, and the list of great composers they have heard ranges from Bach to Stravinsky and many more. They watched as faculty interaction contributed to the student body and also inspired many young teachers. It was before these very fabrics that administrators set the tone for the campus of incoming freshmen. Their upbeat and stimulating messages can still be felt and recalled by alumni. Student achievement from the youngest piano student to the oldest performer took flight before this fabric. Best of all, much teamwork has taken place before the former McFarland fabrics. That teamwork has included the residents of city – and surrounding cities as well – servicemen, countless school children, college students, and community concert performers, to name just a few.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Minot State University, we have fashioned 30 items which are currently on display at First International Bank on South Broadway. On Friday evening, they will be part of the Minot State Gala Auction, where they will be off to a beautiful new start of commemorating treasured memories and also creating new memories in our community and beyond.