In my business at MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® I wear a lot of hats: hat designer, creator, marketer, webmaster, Facebook/blog host. To sum it all up, I am a custom milliner who creates ladies’ hats out of beautiful, sumptuous fabric with an artistic passion.
In 2011 Davina Andree, Creative Director of Horses in Art Magazine, contacted me. She loved my story of how I had combined my two passions, hats and horses, into a six-month Derby hat fundraiser called “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” to benefit Old Friends Equine of Kentucky. As a result she wanted to feature me in an article. Freelance writer L.A. Pomeroy was assigned the task and the resulting piece earned her the AHP Editorial and Graphics Award for Freelance Writer Equine-related Journalism.
Yet it wasn’t until I had the magazine in my hands and saw side by side the images of my hats and the horses of Old Friends that I finally realized that I was carving out a niche in the world of fabric art as an equine artist.
Since the article came out people have asked me about the creative process that’s involved in making fabric hats to honor retired racehorses; it is not as simple as it sounds. The process of creating a piece of wearable millinery out of fabric, thread and trimmings to celebrate a horse is by far the most challenging and creatively stretching experience of my millinery career. But it is also one of the most rewarding.
A lot of homework goes into each “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby” auction hat long before I get anywhere near the cutting table. Cape Cod is a long way from Kentucky; in order to create a fabric representation that truly reflects a horse’s conformation, spirit and life story I have to get to know each equine subject as well as I possibly can. Old Friends provides the biographical information that they have on each horse. People who work and volunteer at Old Friends including Sylvia Burkle, Beth Shannon, Cynthia Grisolia and Valerie Mulgrave, share personal stories of the horses from an up-close-and-personal perspective. Equine photographers who support Old Friends including Matt and Wendy Wooley, Rick Capone and Connie Bush also allow me to use their images of the horses for inspiration as I create.
The research also takes me online as I search to uncover old articles, videos of races and photos that provide me with clues about each horse’s career and spirit. I pay attention as to how their movement, conformation, racing silk colors and racing history might inform the design. Some horses, especially the grays, can turn almost completely white over the years and must be reflected in the design. All of this research can take weeks to compile.
Somewhere along the way, I take out my drawing pad and begin sketching hat shapes and trim ideas, adding color and notes in the margins to remind myself of important details. My design table begins to fill up with fabric swatches that might be the “blood bay” coloring of a horse or a stables’ racing silks. Strips of gathered tulle could turn into flowing “horse hair” and pebbled buttons might become “eyes” while ruched sections of organza become the rippled muscles of a mighty Thoroughbred athlete at full gallop.
The process is a humbling one. The final millinery designs that emerge bear witness to the gentle spirits, magnificent athletic beauty and inspiring personal stories of my equine heroes/heroines as they get stitched, layered and woven into each and every hat.
So whether you choose to call me an equine artist, a little girl who never stopped loving horses, or a milliner who creates and donates hats to celebrate horses for charitable causes, I now wear all of these hats gratefully. No matter what my title, if creating hats honoring these horses can move even one new person to support retired racehorses and see all horses as divine works of art, then my efforts have all been worthwhile.
Please enjoy the following slideshow of some of the horses of Old Friends whom I have honored with my hat designs in the “Hats Off to the Horses” auction series. To see more of the hats and horses, please visit my Old Friends Hat Auction Portfolio.