A wee bit o' controversy
If lawmakers designate an official Oregon tartan this year, Robert MacGregor plans to donate his kilt to the state archives.
MacGregor, a vocational development specialist with the Angell Job Corps Center in Yachats, registered what he thought was the "official" state tartan 15 years ago. The tartan has been registered in Scotland since January 2002. It's one of nearly a dozen tartan patterns from Oregon listed on the Scottish Register of Tartans and with the International Tartan Index. MacGregor's kilt is made from the first few yards of the tartan produced by a Canadian company.
MacGregor's tartan still hasn't received the state's "official" official recognition — yet. State Rep. Margaret Doherty of Tigard hopes to change that. She has introduced House Concurrent Resolution 13, which designates MacGregor's pattern as Oregon's official state tartan.
That would be a big deal to MacGregor and others who worked to produce the tartan design. "So many people have embraced it across the state, and to actually have it officially recognized would be good for so many different folks who worked hard to make this happen," MacGregor said.
Incorporating geologic patterns
MacGregor's tartan reflects his love for Oregon's varied geographic landscapes. It was designed with those features in mind, he said.
"I've been a firefighter most of my life, traversing Oregon, Washington and the Pacific Northwest," he said. "It's one of those weird things: I could go to sleep and wake up and know exactly where I was in the state just by looking at what was around me. I set up the tartan how I view the state. I tried to incorporate all aspects. The color arrangements that I used not only were topographical, but geographical and a reflection of the many different ethnic cultures that exist in the state."
A tartan is a fabric with a crisscrossed pattern of different colors often associated with Scottish heritage. Kilts, ties, shirts, jackets, scarves and blankets are made of the fabric.
MacGregor's tartan has blue stripes representing the state flag and the Pacific Ocean, gold stripes representing the state's agriculture, green stripes representing forests, white stripes representing snowcapped mountains that frame the state, taupe representing the high desert, crimson for the state's volcanic past, azure for streams and creeks and black for obsidian buttes.
Several tartans designed in Oregon are registered in Scotland. In 1998, designer Annette Hoeffel of Pendleton Woolen Mills registered her blue, green, tan and red tartan. In 2010, designer Krisja Lorenson registered an orange, black and tan tartan for Oregon State University. In 2011, Kevin Rolland Kane registered a black, gold, blue and gray tartan for the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
About 17 years ago, MacGregor conceived and designed his tartan. His friend, David Eddelston, executive director of the Friends of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness in Deschutes County, helped finance its production and maneuvered it through the "political process," MacGregor said. The first 10 yards of the fabric were produced by a Canadian company. A second run of the fabric was produced in Scotland.
Eddelston met MacGregor through the High Desert Celtic Society and offered advice and "course correction" as MacGregor (then known as Robert Harding, before he changed his name to honor his Scottish clan) tinkered with the tartan design. Eddelston ponied up "a couple thousand dollars" in seed money to produce the fabric and guided its registration in Scotland, something akin to getting a patent on the design.
Rich Scottish and Irish history
Then came April 2003, and the tartan's story took a left turn. Both MacGregor and Eddelston were convinced that the 2001 Legislature had adopted the design as the state's official tartan, thanks to efforts by state Sen. Bev Clarno, a Deschutes County Republican who introduced legislation to do just that. Instead, Clarno's legislation apparently didn't make it through the session.
Then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a 2003 proclamation declaring April 12 as official Oregon tartan day, and naming MacGregor's design as the official state tartan. He was a little surprised when he learned his design wasn't really the "official" official state tartan.
"There seems to be a wee bit of controversy about it," Eddelston said. "Without having the Legislature making it the official tartan, we're not sure if it's the official tartan."
Enter Doherty, a Tigard Democrat who was approached two years ago by Portland architect Bruce W. Kenny, a friend from the All-Ireland Cultural Society. Kenny remembered purchasing a tie made of the official tartan about a decade ago during a High Desert Celtic Festival near Bend. When he discovered that the tartan might not be the "official" official state design, he contacted Doherty.
"A few years ago I was looking it up online and saw that it had been officially recognized by the Scottish Registry of Tartans, but not adopted by the state," Kenny said. "Given the rich history of Scottish and Irish immigrants in Oregon, I thought this a travesty."
Doherty discovered the legislative lapse, but was unable to introduce legislation to correct the matter during the 2016 session. She produced the bill in January, which could be taken up now that the Legislature has officially opened the 2017 session.
"I look forward on National Tartan Day to be able to say that the tie I will be wearing is the official tartan of Oregon, and know that I have played some small part in its adoption," Kenny said.
Eddelston said the Legislature's seal of approval would be "great for me and the rest of our ilk."
"It's important for a state to have a tartan, particularly in Oregon where there are so many places with names that came from Scotland," Eddelston said, pointing to the Eastern Oregon city of Burns, which was named for Scottish poet Robbie Burns, and the Yamhill County town of Dundee, named for the Scottish birthplace of Oregon businessman and railroad owner William Reid.
MacGregor gave the first few yards of his new tartan (with its official registration number) to his mother. He'd love to give it to the state once it gets an official designation.
"I'm hoping someday when it becomes official I can donate my kilt and the original fabric to our state museum," he said.