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Theater Needlepoint: More Than A Good Yarn

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It´s not often a student inspires an adult at school; usually it´s the other way around. But a Bret Harte High School senior planted a seed and a Hathaway Pines woman immediately went to work.

Betty Moody had made a few small models of local historic buildings and businesses and when the student suggested she build a replica of the Bret Harte Theater, Betty´s fingers got busy.

Laura Pollyea was working at Galvin´s restaurant in Murphys more than a year and a half ago, Betty said, and it was there that the senior spotted Betty´s talents. “I had made a model of (Galvin´s),” Betty said, and Pollyea thought it was very interesting. “I thought it would be neat if she made one of the Bret Harte Theater,” Pollyea said.

Betty has also created a needlework model of several Murphys buildings that she donated to a children´s hospital, she said.

She also built a model of the Gold Country Coffee Roasting Company´s old service station. Matt Cullen, owner of the roasting company, said he also had seen the Galvin´s model and wanted Betty to make one for him. “Someone introduced us but she said ‘no,´” Cullen said. “Then, about a month later she came in with the model.”

Cullen has the creation on display at the shop.

For the theater project, Betty said she wasn´t sure where to begin, especially since she has never set foot in the building. Betty tried to obtain a plan for the building from Dave Hitchcock, the theater architect, to no avail.

Then her husband, Carl, a retired property engineer for Southern Pacific Railroad, set out to map the entire structure. “I counted concrete blocks to measure the height,” Carl said. He also took many photographs so his wife could see how the curves and angles come together on the building. “I started working on the stage and got finished,” Betty said. “Then Carl said it was wrong. ‘That wall isn´t straight. It´s at an angle,´ he said. And the wall had to be taller.”

Betty uses sheets of plastic grid that have seven squares per inch. She threads yarn through the sheeting to create all of the surfaces on her models.

Once Betty really got to working on the project, it became an all-consuming task. She said she would spend eight hours a day, five days a week stitching the model.

If she got stuck, Carl would visit Angels Camp and take more photos of the theater.

“It´s difficult to remember what something looks like,” Betty said. “There were times when I got discouraged. I have to work on sections and then I have to (fasten) them together.”

As the model neared completion, it sat in the couple´s living room – supported by card tables. “I had to be able to get underneath it to fasten sections together.”

After more than a year´s labor, and more than 102,000 stitches, Betty finished the model. She took some liberties and added purple and gold flowers to the grounds in front of her creation´s entrance. “I thought the school colors needed to be there.”

With Betty engrossed in model making, the household chores became Carl´s job during construction. “Now you know why I married him,” Betty said. The couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary later this summer. They have two children and have lived in Hathaway Pines for 23 years.

Betty wants to donate the model to the Bret Harte Union High School District. “I want to give it to the school before Laura graduates,” Betty said. “She challenged me.”

“It´s amazing,” said board Chairwoman, Joan Lark. “I can´t wait to see it.”

Superintendent Joseph Wilimek said the model will be housed in the theater lobby, inside a display case. “Someone who´s taken the time and effort,” deserves our thanks, Wilimek said. “I think it´s a testament to what the Board has done here. It´s part of the community.”

Pollyea had no idea Betty had undertaken the theater model project and Betty surprised Pollyea by showing her the finished product. “It´s incredible,” Pollyea said. “I could never put that much time and patience into something so huge.”

Wilimek and Lark aren´t sure how fast the model will show up at its new home. Betty may enter the model in the Calaveras County Fair and she will display her handiwork at the Home, Garden and Recreation Show at the fairgrounds April 17 and 18.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Mike Taylor. For more Calaveras news, click: