Their big screen adventure

A small team is tackling a big job for Iowa State this winter: restoring and cleaning the stage curtain in the university's Stephens Auditorium. Even under a half inch of dust, it's a magnificent piece of art at 2,800 pounds. And, after 45 years and nearly 3,500 performances, oh the stories it could tell ...

Last spring, as she was finishing up a master's degree in apparel merchandising and design, Kate Greder assisted behind the scenes to figure out what the restoration project should include and how to get it done. She later signed on to lead the work for University Museums.

"In textile conservation, the opportunity to work on a piece of this magnitude is rare," she said.

Greder is assisted by senior intern Amy Lowery, who jumped in when a request for volunteers arose during her museums class last fall. Lowery, who graduates this May in anthropology and biology, is applying to graduate programs in museum studies.

"I'm interested in a career in conservation. This is great experience to gain before I leave Iowa State," she said.

Before starting on the front of the curtain, the team replaced the rod pocket near its lower edge and cleaned the back lining. A future phase could include mechanizing the raising and lowering of the curtain. That's right; it's been ropes, pulleys and determination doing it the last 45 years.

Armed with a few tools -- brushes, microfiber cloths, water and a conservation vacuum -- they're hand cleaning the front side of the curtain. Some days they work through as much as 20 square feet, some days as little as three.

Claire Kruesel joins them when she can. Kruesel, who expects to complete a master's degree in creative writing and the environment next year, said the curtain project let her combine her love for "Iowa State, art stewardship and subtly persuasive journalism." She combed university archives to recount the curtain's history -- back to a loom in Kyoto, Japan -- and has developed various texts about the restoration project.

"As an Iowa State choir member for 11 years, I've been part of performances at Stephens -- and each time the curtain mesmerized me," she said.