Dr. Seuss’ hat collection tops Legends Gallery’s new show in La Jolla

By David L. Coddon

Hang on to your hats, Dr. Seuss fans. Here’s something you may not have known about your favorite children’s book author and illustrator: He collected hats. Lots and lots of hats.

You’ll have a chance to see 26 of them when a touring exhibition titled “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!” opens July 19 at the Legends Gallery of La Jolla. Also on display through Aug. 4 will be limited-edition prints of images from some of the best-known Seuss books, as well as examples from his “Secret Art” series of paintings, drawings and sculpture. (The exhibition will move to the Chuck Jones Gallery in downtown San Diego for an Aug. 9-25 run.)

Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, wears one of his whimsical hats. Courtesy

Bill Dreyer is curator of “The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss” collection, which includes artworks based on original lithographs by Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) that are unknown to many if not most Seuss devotees. The fact is, said Dreyer, “(Geisel) enjoyed painting more than anything. He worked hard at his children’s books, but painting was his love. If his work in children’s literature was the heart of the man, his artwork was his soul.”

As for the hat collection, Dreyer recalled how he personally made the discovery. “I was at the Dr. Seuss Estate researching his artwork and Mrs. (Audrey) Geisel asked me ‘Would you like to see the hat closet?’ She opens up this door to this hidden room and in that room on both sides of the wall are hanging literally hundreds of hats that he’d begun collecting in the 1920s.”

Dreyer recounted that at dinner parties, Ted Geisel would go into the hat closet, gather hats and ask everyone in attendance to wear one and assume the personality that the hat inspired. “That,” Dreyer said, “would always liven up a party.”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the second Dr. Seuss book (the first was “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street”), “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”

“We thought this was the perfect time to bring out this hidden hat collection and tie it to his artworks,” explained Dreyer, “which are inspired in many cases by the specific hats in his collection or by hats he owned himself.”

The Theodor Geisel hats reflect world history as well as his own. “You see in his collection that he brings hats from Central America, South America, Europe,” said Dreyer. “You’ll see Peruvian hats and hats from his time in World War II. There’s a Nazi field marshal’s hat, an Italian Fascist fez. There’s a Baroque helmet that looks like it’s seen action.
“There’s also a Dickens top hat and of course wacky, wonderfully Seussian hats that are filled with feathers and colors.”

The hat that changed the world of children's books.

As for the iconic “Cat in the Hat” hat, one will be on display.

“That hat I believe did not precede the book (which was published in 1957),” said Dreyer. “Somebody probably fashioned the hat and gave it to him as a gift.”
Dreyer will discuss the hats and the life of Dr. Seuss, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Legends Gallery. As for the exhibition itself, “It’s a way to learn something about an American icon that you thought you knew everything about,” Dreyer said, “and a way to take a nostalgic walk through your childhood.”

If you go

What: ‘Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!’ exhibit

When: July 19-Aug. 4
Where: Legends Gallery of La Jolla, 1205 Prospect St., Suite B
Related Lecture: 7 p.m. Saturday, July 20

Contact: (858) 456-9900

A portion of Dr. Seuss' hat closet!

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  3. Film artist to speak at Museum of Contemporary Art Thursday in advance of his new exhibit downtown
  4. Galeria Jan celebrates 25 years in the art business
  5. Two new photo exhibits open Saturday at the MOPA in Balboa Park

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Posted by Staff on Jul 16, 2013. Filed under A & E, Art Galleries & Institutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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