The Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter

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Nothing is more ordinary than a paper bag, which is why these hats are so extraordinary. The Hawaii artist Moses (shown right, modeling Halley's Hat, made to honor the astronomer) crafted more than 250 of them in a remarkable creative outburst that lasted almost ten years.

Moses says he "feels like the luckiest guy in the world" because he was given "The Paper Bag Hat Assignment." He can't explain why, but throughout the 1980s he was obsessed with paper bag hats. He saw designs in trees and in mountains. Some are quite simple — just a bag cleverly folded and shaped into a head covering. Others, like Anthurium and Gothic Knight, rely on the bag's crisp texture to hold intricate pleats. Quite a few, such as Two/Flat Knight, are held together with vast quantities of white glue. Waiting for the glue to dry was the most tedious part of the construction process.

Local merchants gladly donated bags, and Moses used thousands. The rays of Sun Rook were made from at least 100 paper bags, which were twisted tightly, bent in half and glued onto a form, so that more than 200 points bristle from its crown. To achieve the soft texture of Beethoven and Dahling, bags were twisted and crumpled repeatedly until the fibers just gave up and the paper became like flannel. Moses did so much folding and twisting that he developed serious tendonitis. At the time, Moses lived in a Chevy van and used the project room of the local library as his studio.

Periodically, he'd fill his van with the current crop of chapeaus, drive down to Hapuna Beach with a borrowed camera and ask passersby if they'd like to be photographed wearing one of his creations. People's reactions were always positive. Perhaps they caught a dose of Moses' infectious enthusiasm. The bulk of his Crowning Glory collection is owned by the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California. Martha Longenecker, the museum's founder and director, marvels at these "imaginative, amusing, whimsical and timeless sculptural forms."

Moses is one person who can suggest you put a bag over your head without your being insulted.

By Elizabeth J. Erskine
All photographs courtesy of Moses

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