News flash: Hats are a big thing at the Kentucky Derby, and, by extension, Baltimore’s own Preakness Stakes.
This year in Highlandtown, we can expect the same at the Art Cart Derby, thanks to the efforts of Piecework, a group of local visual artists.
“In keeping with the theme of the derby, Martha came up with the idea to do some kind of hats,” said Kini Collins, explaining the genesis of the idea with fellow Piecework artist Martha Simons.
Last Saturday, a group of six from Piecework—including Collins, Simons, Laura Vernon-Russell, Micah Russell, Lyndie Vantine and Christy Bergland—met in Collins’ Butchers Hill studio to practice folding paper hats for the derby. Not present were Michelle Sanzi, Kathy Strauss and Harper Steinke, who will be participating at the derby.
These are not ordinary paper hats. Each features artwork and signatures from one or some of the Piecework artists.
“The origami is traditional,” said Simons of the paper hat style, though these hats are folded in a much spiffier manner than the triangular newspaper hats we all know.
“Drawing on it and coloring on it is not traditional,” Simons continued. “doing it on an assembly line is not traditional.”
The art is as much in the performance of hat-making as in the final product. At last year’s Art Cart Derby, Piecework created posters—actually artfully-altered maps—to celebrate the derby. They worked together to assemble the posters, each member adding a special touch, and cranked the posters off their “assembly line.”
This year, Piecework will be folding their paper hats at a work table directly on the Art Cart Derby track, which is the Gough St. hill in Highlandtown, starting from Conkling St. and heading east a couple blocks. It is yet to be determined whether Piecework will fold between heats or prior to the races.
Piecework plans to crank out the hats like clockwork. Each teammate will have about 15 or 20 seconds to make his or her folds before passing the hat to the next station and receiving a hat from the previous station. Hats will come off the line every 20 seconds or so.
“I like the idea that it is not going to make visual sense to the people watching,” Collins said.
Last year, Piecework sold their maps to benefit Banner Neighborhoods, a major presenter of the Art Cart Derby. This year, the group will be giving away their hats for free. They may be kept in hat form, or unfolded and framed.
“The way you get a hat,” said Collins, “is you stand and look adoringly at us.”
If the group’s designated hatter deigns you worthy, you might just walk away with a hat on your head.
The Art Cart Derby is Sept. 20.
by Erik Zygmont