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Decorating for three....or several million!

Decorations at Virgelle Show by Cindy Torok

December 23, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

by Patricia Swan Smith
For the Pathfinder

Some people go from one extreme to the other when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Local artist Cindy Torok is one of those people.

One week she was in New York City with 7 million people, some armed with bricks, and the next week she was in a Virgelle, Montana with a population of 3 (2 full-time residents and 1 part-timer). In New York she knew only a few people. In Virgelle she knew everyone.

Cindy told about her adventures in New York and Virgelle, and she said the contrast is very interesting.

Take voting for instance. Voting in Virgelle is much simpler than in New York City. When you vote for mayor in Virgelle, you simply cast your ballot at the outhouse.

There are no outhouses in New York City Proper, so you still have to go into those silly booths.

The Christmas decorations in New York are much different than those in Montana. In New York, people will pay $2,000 for one single Christmas tree, and then they buy more than one. They also buy a several $500 Christmas trees to stand around the $2,000 Christmas trees.

In Montana, you can get a tree for free.

In Montana we can buy a poinsettia without a getting a loan, and we can get it in the car to take it home.

In New York you have to have a pickup for transport. Yes, five feet tall, four or five feet wide, and the price tag is $100.

In Montana we can buy Godiva Chocolate bars at Barnes & Noble. Okay so it's only one kind.

In New York at the Trade Center, they have a whole store filled with different kinds of Godiva Chocolate, and when a co-worker approached Cindy (who was probably drooling outside the window) he said, "You like Godiva Chocolate?"

She said, "There's a whole store."

And he said, "That was a very Montana thing to say."

In Montana we get lost on roads. In New York you get lost in a building.

But the best difference of all was discovered when the short man on the subway got bopped in the nose by a woman who was trying to move her arm and Cindy looked at him and replied "Ouch, that hurt."

After that, they chatted.

He said, "Boy the subway is sure crowded today isn't it."

She said, "Where I come from more than two people is a crowd."

He said, "I knew you weren't from here because you are so friendly."

Besides the little differences, Cindy said she had a great time decorating the World Trade Center.

There were nine artists working on the center. At night, crews would take the glass panels off the building so a crane could drive inside the building to help decorate.

When they needed something smaller, they brought in a forklift.

Cindy's husband Paul said, "In Montana we call it decorating. In New York they call it installation."

Ten-14 foot trees were set up. It took two people six hours to put lights on one tree. (And none of these decor specialists were employed by the government) Each tree had 36 strings of lights.

Cindy told someone about this, and he laughed and asked her if she was going to put up a Christmas tree this year. She replied, "Yes but it won't have lights on it."

They put up ten silver discs with 50 strings of lights per disc to suspend from the ceiling in and among the full grown palm trees. (Oh another difference. In Montana we keep our trees outside)

They put up 19-50 foot columns and strung lights down the full length of those. In between the columns, they suspended six-foot floral arrangements.

They hung four wreaths, each one of them 10 feet wide.

"Everything was huge," she said.

They decorated a stage with red velvet. That alone cost $10,000.

They put 1,600 bows in the trees. The bows were only $10 each.

"It was amazing," she said.

Cindy worked on the Trade Center from November 20th to November 28th.

They worked three nights and three days.

When Cindy returned to Montana, she traveled to Virgelle, population 3, to help decorate the Mercantile and Bank for Christmas. Virgelle is about 15 miles south of Big Sandy on the Missouri River.

This Ghost Town hosts a wonderful antique and art sale in December. One of the locals, Don Sorenson, has the antiques, and Cindy has the art.

Sorenson has held this sale for 25 years, and Cindy has been helping him for 18 years.

I asked her how many paintings she planned on taking to this art show, and she replied, "Three. And I hope everyone in town buys one."


All joking aside, 180 people were standing outside the door in Virgelle at opening time. Within three hours, 450 cups of coffee had been served. Approximately 1,000 people came to the sale during the two-day show.

Cindy has painted professionally for 20 years, which has led her to shows throughout the Northwest and Canada.

Cindy has received many awards and recognition for her work. She received Best of Show two consecutive years in the Great Falls fair and an Honorable Mention at the Western Heritage Art Show.

Besides decorating for Christmas here and there, Cindy paints, carves with a chainsaw, quilts, spins wool and sews.

You can find some of her art in Seeley at either The Gathering or the Stage Station.

And if you see her and have time to chat, ask her if she hangs around brick-carrying men!

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