I began collecting Ann Clarke hats a decade ago during my annual “pilgrimage” to the Rhode Island School of Design’s Alumni Art Sale. Together with my mom and sister, on a Saturday each December, we would embark on our “long” trek to…Providence. For my mother, the glistening lights and sparkling colors were at first overwhelming, for my sister, the “jostled” quality of a convention-hall experience, a bit unnerving. I on the other hand (ever-the-medievalist, I suppose) thought I had died-and-gone-to-heaven! Like the 12th century Abbot Suger, who described medieval stained glass as “the loveliness of the many colored gems,” all that I saw was a kaleidoscope of treasures!
Each year Ann Clarke’s booth, with its dazzling coats and spectacular hats, became a regular stopping point along our journey. At first it was the brilliant colors, the various patterns and the irresistible tactile quality of her hats/clothes that drew us to her. Soon it was apparent that her art offered a more enduring “gift”: the joyous experience of digging into a massive pile of alluring hat-art and trying them on something akin to performance art. With the jauntier hats, we morphed into Robin Hood; with the pointier hats, we became full-court jesters, but the most magical aspect of Ann Clarke’s textile art is the joy I share with my mom and sister as we experience her art (not to mention the smile that is generated the second you try on an Ann Clarke hat)!
Associate Professor of Medieval Art and Architecture