A scale model of the Wright Park band shell combines several of this miniature maker's lifelong passions.
The matriarch of miniature marvels is hanging up her proverbial pint-sized hat and has donated her version of the Wright Park band shell to the Kansas Heritage Center.
The miniature band shell, stocked with a colorful cast of dedicated players, represents to of Marjorie Nazarenus's biggest passions: the French horn and realizing dreamed up scenes writ small.
Beside the miniature band shell sits a copy of the living room Nazarenus sat in with her horn at age 16. It was hand-made in 1950 and cost $420, she said. Next to mini-Marjorie in front of a stand-up piano are photos of her wearing a matching gingham dress and glasses.
"My whole life all I wanted to do was play the French horn," Nazarenus said. "I was 16 and it was my dream."
Nazarenus attended Bethany College on scholarship — four scholarships, she corrects — for the French horn. Her goal of performing as a career was dashed after an audition in front of the famous principal horn player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philip Farkas.
To the dismay of her family, she said she attended a beauty school and put out her shingle. While at college she had developed the knack for hair, and it could make some money, and through the Dodge City Cowboy Band she was able to play the horn.
Nazarenus has spent years playing her French horn in the life-sized version of the Wright Park band shell, and she, like it, is 80 years old this year. In the Kansas summer the band shell can be like a convection oven and it's gotten to be a little much, she said, and she's passed the baton onto her fellow French horn players in the band.
"I wish I stopped teaching her before she got better than me," Nazarenus said of fellow horn player Bethany Campfield, whom she tutored on the instrument when Campfield moved to the area in 1998. The trio, with horn player Rhonda Jeffries, is the best of friends, Nazarenus said.
While working as a "small time operator" out of her pool house — "I was no beauty salon," she clarified, "I was a chop shop" — Nazarenus filled rooms with miniature rooms, doll houses and a model of the church where she married her husband, Harold.
"I would dream it up. I would lay awake at night trying to think of what to make," she said. She filled rooms with miniatures, including 13 doll houses and 20 room boxes. She's given five of them to her grandchildren
"I never made a dime. Everything I made in the beauty shop I spent on miniatures," Nazarenus said. Scale furniture can be ghastly expensive, though she always tried to be a bargain buyer, and she made some of the pieces herself.
She's given classes on building canopy beds, for example, and she prides herself on her dress work with puffed sleeves, gathered skirts, "They just look real," she said.
The band shell, built in the mid-1990s, took weeks and weeks, Nazarenus said. It, like many of her creations, contains little jokes — a wind player with a funny mask, a soloist on crutches — all crammed in under the band shell playing the pops and the brassy western American canon.
"There's always a joker in every band," she said. "It's usually a trumpet player, but I'm not going to name any names."
Visitors can see the miniature band shell at the Kansas Heritage Museum on N. Second Avenue, and listen to Nazarenus's beloved Cowboy Band every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. this summer. On June 22, the band will have a special concert to recognize the role of the band shell in Dodge City's musical heritage.
The band will also be performing a special Fourth of July concert at the Boot Hill Museum in coordination with the Longbranch Saloon Variety Show and during the Dodge City Days parade.