Cowboys and Hatters: Bond Street, Sagebrush and the Silver Screen.

This exhibition seeks to broaden the museum audience to include more men and children from a diverse population, and to balance the approach to an exhibition by emphasizing the historical and sociological evolution of a single class of objects, men's hats. By focusing on the historical use of the hat by real cowboys in juxtaposition with the hats of movie cowboys and fashionable gentlemen, the exhibition shows how a costume accessory indicates status, vocation, and myth, and how these change over time. Through the use of real hats, dressed mannequins, hat-making implements and samples, photographs of the hat-making process, and portraits of men wearing hats, the exhibition explores all levels of hat-making, hat-wearing and hat iconography. The exhibit focuses on men's costume and includes a signlficant section on the manufacture of the object. It will also details everyday working clothes. The public fascination with the cowboys of legend serves to give the audience a greater appreciation of the role of costume as social indicator.

Men's hats have a consistent social history. Their manufacture, especially the procurement of valuable beaver fur, instigated colonialism, political involvement and economic regulation. Into the third quarter of the 20th century men were rarely seen without their hats. Cowboys continue to wear their broad brimmed hats for protection, but in the second half of the 20th century the "cowboy," whether urban or countrywestern, has adopted the iconic "Stetson," classifying the wearer as a symbol of the "rugged individualism" of the United States.

Men's hats have a long history as hand-made objects. Christy's hat manufacturers of England produced a catalogue in 1911 showing over 300 styles. The history of how these hats were made, and the fashionable requisites for their wear are no longer familiar. Interviews with hat manufacturers and retailers in the United States and Europe supply this accessible history to any age audience through artifacts, pictures, and a detailed catalogue.

Artifacts have been collected by the curator as well as borrowed from the Western Department of the Denver Public Library, the Museum of New Mexico, the Ohio Historical Society, the Western Reserve Historical Society, the Bucks County Historical Society, and the Hat Museum of Stockport, England, along with photographs and hats in progressive stages of formation from hat manufacturers.

The exhibit can be tailored to a specific museum ethnic or cultural focus by adding hats and related clothing relevant to the host museum. For example, the Roswell Museum of Art added a supplementary area for the local Charreria influences, while also adding depth to the western clothing areas through their extensive Roger Aston collection. The focus can range from manufacture and economic influences to influences of fashion and status.

It is an exhibit designed as an investigation of a familiar object -- the man's hat. everyone has one and most people wear one for some special occasion. Most people don't know the history or how they are made our even who wore them. this exhibit is designed to stimulate the audience to take a deeper look at a most common object and learn about its range of significance.

By focusing on the historical use of the hat by real cowboys in juxtaposition with the hats of movie cowboys and fashionable gentlemen, the exhibition shows how a costume accessory indicates status, vocation, and myth, and how these change over time. Through the use of real hats, dressed mannequins, hat-making implements and samples, photographs of the hat-making process, and portraits of men wearing hats, the exhibition explores all levels of hat-making, hat-wearing and hat iconography. The exhibit focuses on men's costume and includes a signlficant section on the manufacture of the object. It also details everyday working clothes. The public fascination with the cowboys of legend serves to give the audience a greater appreciation of the role of costume as social indicator.

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All photos and content © 2006 Debbie Henderson, Cowboys and Hatters.No photos or content may be reproduced without express written permission from the author.