At left, a red-and-white striped top hat that's part of a traveling… (Dr. Seuss Enterprises )
A traveling selection of hats, helmets, bonnets and caps once owned by Dr. Seuss makes a SoCal stop at a Laguna Beach art gallery on Friday.
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The touring "Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!" exhibit is part of a year-long celebration to mark the 75th anniversary of Theodor "Seuss" Geisel's second book, "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins," (and the one I credit with sparking my life-long love of hats) and marks the first time the eclectic collection of headgear, curated by Chase Art Companies, has traveled outside the Seuss estate.
According to this excerpt from the press materials accompanying the exhibit, the good doctor (who died in 1991) was a hat fancier himself:
"Dr. Seuss was an avid hat collector known to wear one of his crazy hats for inspiration while writing, and at dinner parties, it was often a tradition for each guest to wear a hat.
In his artwork, as in his personal life, Dr. Seuss saw hats as transformational. From the time he was a small boy in Springfield, Massachusetts, he was aware of the inherent magic in hats."
Thanks to the confluence of New York Fashion Week, I managed to catch the exhibit at the New York Public Library in February -- the first stop of its nationwide tour.
In addition to the hats, which I'll get to in a moment, I was astonished to find that the writer and illustrator of 44 books for children also was the proud owner of an honest-to-goodness man cave -- a secret closet-like space hidden behind a bookcase in his home where he stashed his hats!
At first glance the display seems almost like a lid let-down; it's essentially a steamer trunk the size of a walk-in closet -- although one so filled to overflowing with hats, the Seuss estate, the staff of the Children's Reading Room and the dozen children in the room should consider themselves lucky there was a layer of protective display glass between me and the mother lode of millinery.
There were black-and-white convict caps, a teeny tiny sombrero, a black topper, Chinese caps, white fuzzy marching band busbys, fierce-looking pickelhaubes, embroidered naval caps, and all manner of fancy, floppy felt chapeaux festooned with colorful Seussian-appropriate plumage.
But of all the hats -- and I counted some 25 before lapsing into a cap-induced coma -- there were two in particular that will make a Seussophile's heart grow three sizes. The first was a towering stovepipe top hat with three wide horizontal bands of red interspersed with two of white -- the sartorial calling card of the Cat in the Hat himself. Though the exhibit doesn't solve the riddle of which came first -- this hat or the cat's -- it's fun to see this one up close.
The second hat is a simple, unassuming cap of red felt with a sloping crown and accented with a single large white feather. Those unfamiliar with "500 Hats" might overlook it altogether, but anyone else would instantly recognize it as the hat at the heart of Bartholomew Cubbins' 499 problems. (I don't want to spoil the ending, but trust my math.)
And for this hat-loving fan of the master young Cubbins (who lived near a cranberry bog in the Kingdom of Didd) to see it on display so many years removed from childhood was a wonderful, powerful surprise.
The Fingerhut Gallery of Laguna Beach will host the hat exhibit (which is not for sale) alongside a selection of estate-authorized artworks adapted from the author's drawings, paintings and sculptures (which are) until June 2.
If you happen to miss checking out the cat's many hats close-up this time around, the touring exhibit will be returning to Southern California for stops in La Jolla and San Diego in July and August (the full schedule can be found at the Hats Off to Dr. Seuss! website.)
"Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!" at Fingerhut Gallery of Laguna Beach, 210 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., May 17 to June 2.
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