In 1937, Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), known to millions as Dr. Seuss, was visited by his sister, Marnie, who reported that he had a peculiar hobby of collecting hats of every description and was thinking of using them as a foundation for his next book.
That book, his second of 44, was “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” Bartholomew’s red hat with a jaunty feather was inspired by a childhood hero — Robin Hood. Characters in his subsequent books almost all sported distinctive hats as well. “In the beginning, Bartholomew Cubbins didn’t have 500 hats. He had only one hat,” the story begins. Readers will recall how they multiplied each time he removed one.
In honor of the book’s 75th anniversary, a special “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!” exhibition, approved by Geisel’s widow, Audrey Geisel, will include a selection from the beloved author’s hat closet plus “Secret Art,” estate-authorized works adapted from original drawings, paintings and sculpture by that prolific man.
Since Geisel’s early teen years, he was fascinated by hats and saw them as a reflection of a person’s behavior — a transformational factor. He entertained friends by spinning stories as he changed hats to become different characters.
This collection, which debuted at the New York Public Library, will be exhibited in Denver from June 21 to July 14 at Clayton Lane Fine Art in Denver. On June 21, Bill Dreyer, The Art of Dr. Seuss Project curator, will be at the gallery to talk about the works. He will speak about 7 p.m. Dreyer has worked with Audrey Geisel, who decided to share art that had not been seen before in this exhibit.
The famous Cat in the Hat, he said, was Dr. Seuss’ alter ego: “The cat from the wrong side of the tracks.” Paintings in the traveling show are more elaborate than the children’s illustrations, illustrating a labyrinthine imagination. “Part of his brilliance is that you come away from the books with a message — in ‘Horton Hears a Who,’ for example: ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small …’”
Dreyer said in a phone interview that there will be 26 hats from the collection. They have never been shown before — they have been in the closet. Prints and sculptures copied from the originals will be included in the exhibit and will be for sale. The archived originals will eventually go to a museum, Dreyer said.