Craft Show Artist Kate Bishop Makes Elegantly Eccentric Hats

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Kate Bishop has always been one to stand out in a crowd. In 1970, she was the only female upperclassman at Yale University (transferring as a senior when the school began admitting women that year.)

Today, she pursues a rare profession as milliner, making a living selling handcrafted hats that she describes as "elegantly eccentric." Looking more like sculptures than headpieces, Bishop's hats use materials like woven grasses, silk flowers, metal, leather and feathers, which she mixes with abstractly-shaped brims.

"My work is designed to liberate and celebrate the wearer's wonderfully eccentric nature," Bishop writes on her site. "Even if you spend most of your time sitting at a desk, your life at the desk isn't your only story. You have a love story, an adventure story, a magical fantasy. Those are the stories that inspire my work."

The California-based seamstress is one of 120 artists whose work is on sale, today through Sunday, at the 27th Annual Smithsonian Craft Show located at the National Building Museum. (Be sure to see work by mechanical insect creator Mike Libby, who I interviewed last week.)

As Bishop was setting up her booth this morning, I asked how her customers respond to the one-of-a-kind hats.

Q: What kind of person wears your hats?

Wearing a hat is all about attitude. I have some really extravagant hats that are worn by famous choreographers and musicians and so forth. Then there is the woman who lives up in the woods, who wears the same hats to entertain her friends.

Q: Does the wearer take on the personality of the hat or does the hat reflect the wearer?

I think it’s both. When a woman wears a hat, her posture and demeanor change. That’s what I love. To see the hat speak to a part of a person that doesn’t ordinarily come forward. You can see a woman’s estimation of herself change as other people comment on her wearing the hat. And when she looks in the mirror, she sees someone completely different.

Q: What new work are you exhibiting at this weekend’s Craft Show?

I just began hand-painting grasscloth with acrylic inks. The grasscloth doesn’t take the dye easily, so I can get nice colors with it.

Q: What did you think of the Luke Song hat worn by Aretha Franklin during the inauguration?

Aretha can do anything she wants. I’m glad she wore that hat.

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