By Amanda Greene
Religion News Wilmington
Dr. Yvonne Richardson Watson built her home in St. James Plantation in Southport with her mother’s church hats in mind.
Thinking of the collection of more than 50 church hats – both ostentatious with feathers and small, modest pillboxes – that she stands custodian of, Watson built a closet with especially high ceilings to house the boxes and boxes of pristinely kept hats. She has to use a ladder to reach all the hats.
Her mother, Oswald Richardson, passed away on Oct. 19, 2010, but Watson believes her memory lives on in her hats and a current exhibition that includes them called “Hattitude: A Convergence of Fashion and Faith” at the Cameron Art Museum. Some of her hat boxes are even on display for their aesthetic and historic charms. The exhibition is running through Jan. 15 along with artist William McNeill’s exhibit of church fans and an exhibit of photographs from the book “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.”
This weekend, the museum will celebrate church hats at the Hattitude Holiday Tea, Hat Fashion Show and Spoken Word 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the museum on the corner of 17th Street and Independence Boulevard.
“I like to say she’s in her heavenly home and an angel orchestrating all this,” Watson said of her mother. “She was a child of the Depression, and her younger years were shaped by not too many material things so when she became an adult and started teaching I think that she just couldn’t get enough of buying beautiful things – hats, jewelry, furs. When I think of beauty, I think of my mother.”
As the caretaker of most of the collection – her siblings have about 40 hats – Watson said many of the hats look as if they were never worn, though her mother wore her hats daily, even as a school teacher in Little Rock, Ark.
The only time she didn’t wear them – in the choir loft at her African Methodist Episcopal church.
But before the exhibition, Watson’s mother’s hats didn’t just inhabit shelves in her home.
“I do wear them. I have many hats of my own. In my community people know me as the hat lady,” she added. “I just love hats, and to me they’re almost like if you were decorating a house, it’s the finishing touch.”
For Watson, the hats connect her back to her childhood, lost traditions in the church and a sense of reverence.
There were unspoken, cultural rules of hat-wearing.
“You could never wear the same hat twice in a row because everyone knew your hats. Even in the same month you wouldn’t want to wear the same one, you know what I’m saying,” she said. “It’s from the Bible, the woman covers her head in the temple.”
“This is about a celebration of my mother and her life, a celebration of women and of fashion. Hattitude, the name is perfect,” Watson said, “hats do bring people together, make a fashion statement and very much a faith statement that you must wear your crowns for the master.”