A tip of the hat(s) to Dr. Seuss
If Dr. Seuss collected hats,
Tall hats, short hats, hats for cats,
Old hats steeped in history,
Strange hats heaped with mystery,
Dainty, lacy, frilly hats,
Even downright silly hats,
And if you knew where his hats were at,
Could you, would you, go see that?
Even Bill Dreyer, a leading authority on the life and art of Dr. Seuss, was caught off guard when he learned the late children’s author collected hats.
Not that it should surprise anyone how deeply hats fascinated the whimsical Dr. Seuss. Two of his best-loved books — “The Cat in the Hat” and “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” — are about as hat-centric as you can get, and hats make appearances on the heads of numerous other Seussian characters throughout his bibliography.
Still, Dreyer had to hang on to his own hat when Audrey Geisel — the 92-year-old widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss — casually asked him one day, “Bill, would you like to see the hat closet?” Dreyer had been meeting regularly with Geisel to catalog her husband’s “secret art” — paintings and sculptures that rarely, if ever, had been exhibited in public — but he’d known nothing of a Dr. Seuss hat collection.
Of course he’d like to see the hat closet, Dreyer replied.
“So she takes me into the library, which is just floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall bookshelves, and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t see any hats in here,’” Dreyer recalls.
“But she walks over to a bookshelf and pulls it open to reveal a hidden room — it’s like something out of a James Bond movie — and in this room are hundreds of hats hanging on the walls. This is one of those amazing moments in time where you get goosebumps — you’re walking into history in a way you never thought you would.”
The result of those goosebumps is “Hats Off To Dr. Seuss!,” the first-ever national touring exhibition of the beloved children’s author’s private hat collection, as well as pieces of his “secret art” Dreyer has been cataloging.
The exhibit, which was timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the publication of “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” will open Friday at The Art Shop in Greensboro, and will remain on display there through April 19. An opening reception will be held Friday evening, but space is limited, so an RSVP is required.
Dreyer, the curator of the exhibit, can’t help but marvel at the hat collection Dr. Seuss amassed in his life.
“He collected hats from the 1920s — when he was in his early 20s — through the end of his life, and it’s just a treasure trove of history,” Dreyer says. “There are hats from World War II, hats from Central America, hats from South America and Europe. There are hats that friends gave him, and hats that were made just for him. It’s just an astounding collection of hats.”
And yes, there’s the famed “Cat in the Hat” hat — the red-and-white-striped stovepipe hat made popular by that book.
“That’s arguably the most famous hat in history,” Dreyer says. “People come to the exhibit and see that hat, and it’s just phenomenal: ‘There it is! That’s the “Cat in the Hat” hat!’ ”
Dreyer doesn’t know the origin of the hat owned by Dr. Seuss, but he believes the book inspired the creation of the hat, rather than the other way around.
“I believe he invented that hat when he was drawing his book,” Dreyer says. “In 1957, when that book came out, Dr. Seuss would’ve had no idea how huge an impact it would have on literacy. That book changed the way generations of children would learn to read, so I believe it was made by a friend or gifted to him. It is the only red and white stovepipe hat in the collection, along with all the other fun Seussian hats.”
Dreyer is quick to point out, though, that not all of the hats in the collection are quite so Seussian.
“There are some historically important hats in this exhibition, too,” he explains.
“He spent a lot of time dedicating himself to the World War II effort, and he came back with some significant hats, including a Nazi field marshal’s hat, a prisoner’s hat from a concentration camp, an Italian Fascist fez and a British naval officer’s hat. It’s just an astounding collection of really historically significant hats, alongside the fun, frilly hats you might expect from the good doctor.”
According to Dreyer, the first recorded mention of Dr. Seuss’ hat collection came from his sister, Marnie, after she visited her brother in New York in the fall of 1937.
“Ted has another peculiar hobby — that of collecting hats of every description,” she told a newspaper after her visit. “Why, he must have several hundred, and he is using them as the foundation of his next book. I have seen him put on an impromptu show for guests, using the hats as costumes.”
That next book Marnie mentioned — the second of 44 Dr. Seuss books — became “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”
In addition to the hats of Dr. Seuss, the exhibit will include limited-edition prints of some of the so-called “secret art” of Dr. Seuss.
“People will have a chance to come in and see the imagery Dr. Seuss created during his lifetime,” Dreyer says. “And what they get to learn is that there is this artistic side to Geisel that goes well beyond what they knew. It stretches well beyond what you might imagine.”
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Want to go?
“Hats Off To Dr. Seuss!,” an exhibit featuring hats from the personal collection of the late children’s author — as well as some of his artwork that has never been made public before now — will be on display Friday through April 19 at The Art Shop, 3900-A W. Market St., Greensboro.
An opening reception will be Friday, from 6 to 9 p.m., and will feature a presentation at 7 p.m. by Jeff Schuffman, an official representative of “The Art of Dr. Seuss.” An RSVP is required for the reception; to RSVP, call the gallery at (336) 855-8500 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At other times, the exhibit will be on display during regular gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Admission is free.