The man who created “The Cat in the Hat” was a closet hat collector.
Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had a stash of chapeaus that he kept in a “secret closet” hidden in his home.
“It was like something out of a James Bond movie, behind a wall in the Geisel estate in La Jolla, Calif., is a little room that was, at one time, filled with all kinds of hats,” says William Dreyer, curator of Geisel’s art collection.
“He started collecting them when he was a student at Oxford in the 1920s,” says Dreyer. “At one point he may have had 300 or more. Only close friends knew about it. At dinner parties when things got slow, he would pull out hats and ask the guests to wear them and act out whatever the hat inspired.”
Geisel also had a “secret art collection” of work that he created for himself.
“He became world famous for those whimsical drawings in his children’s books, but he also was a talented artist who drew everything from political and social commentary to serious works of art,” Dreyer said in a telephone interview.
Like the hat collection, Geisel’s personal artworks remained private during his lifetime. He died in 1991 at age 87. His widow, Audrey, has said that Geisel wanted to share his “secret art” but asked her to wait until after his death.
“Now his art and some of his hats are being shared with the public for the first time in a traveling exhibit which is touring the country at select galleries,” Dreyer says.
The “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss” exhibit opens Saturday at the Syd Entel Galleries, 247 Main Street, in Safety Harbor. The exhibit runs through Jan. 26. There is no admission charge.
A Dr. Seuss collection expert, Jeff Schuffman, will attend the opening from 6 to 9 p.m. Syd Entel is one of 25 galleries nationwide that exhibit and sell Dr. Seuss reproductions.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the release of the second Dr. Seuss book, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”
“We thought this would be a good time to put some of his hats on display so we gathered up 26 that are representative of the collection,” Dreyer says. Only about 158 hats in the collection have survived.
Included on the tour is one of the world’s most iconic hats, the red-and-white stovepipe from “The Cat in the Hat,” published in 1957.
“That book changed his life, made him world famous and changed children’s books, making them fun to read,” says Dreyer.
Dreyer adds that many of the characters in the 44 books by Dr. Seuss wear hats — like the grumpy Grinch in a Santa cap or the bowler on Sylvester McMonkey McBean in “The Sneetches” or Cubbin’s Robin Hood styled cap.
Also in the touring collection are a drum major’s hat, a hat made from a gourd, a metal fire brigade helmet, an Italian colonel’s hat, a whimsical feathered hat, a selection of World War II hats and a Charles Dickens-style top hat.
“Geisel felt that hats were important accents that could reveal a person’s character or behavior,” Dreyer says. “And the ‘secret’ paintings that he created for himself show just how much of an artist he was.”
For information visit www.sydentelgalleries.com