Above: Carole Roddenberry, left; Jane Brown, center; and Beverly McConnell, right, model vintage hats from ART Station’s collection. SPECIAL

The GFWC Stone Mountain Woman’s Club has been a staunch supporter of Stone Mountain’s ART Station since it launched 37 years ago. So the club’s members could not sit idly by when the pandemic cancelled ART Station’s theater productions, education programs and a huge fundraiser last spring.

After learning that staff is working through the organization’s continuing shutdown on a variety of projects, the women asked how they could help. ART Station told them about some long-standing to-dos, and the women went to work.

Over the summer, Woman’s Club members cleaned a garden at ART Station and organized and cataloged a library containing about 3,500 to 4,000 plays.

Wearing many hats

They also cleaned, restored and repaired about 150 hats estimated to be between 60 and 80 years old. The hats were donated to ART Station over the past couple of decades by the families of four women — including three GFWC Stone Mountain Woman’s Club members — who have passed away.

hatsOnce restored, the hats were photographed, cataloged and carefully preserved in labeled boxes, and they will go on display after ART Station reopens, said the center’s co-founder, David Thomas.

“We’ve used them in so many shows,” Thomas said, adding that the center has loaned some of the hats to local theater companies over the years. “They’re so beneficial. They make productions more authentic.”

Organizing the collection began with a scavenger hunt. The hats were scattered in a costume storage room full of crammed shelves and boxes piled to the ceiling, said Jane Brown, chair of the Woman’s Club’s Art & Culture Community Service Program. “You could see little hats here and there. … They were squished flat as pancakes, many of them,” she said.

The volunteers unearthed cloche hats and floppy sun hats, turbans and beanies, pillboxes and fascinators, applejacks and derbies. Some of them were damaged years ago when a tree fell on ART Station’s roof during a storm and everything in the room got soaked.

Restoration brings satisfaction

Brown, who sews, paints and crafts, took to the internet to learn how to restore and date vintage hats and worked with her team to brush, steam clean, stuff and stitch each hat to its original glory.

“It was a challenge. It was exciting,” she said. “Not only was it an outlet to give us something to do during the pandemic, it was a learning opportunity.”

As she repaired fine netting and replaced tiny chenille dots, Brown wondered about the story behind each hat, especially one little grayish blue number.

“It was so worn and frail that you could tell someone had worn that to church every Sunday,” she said.

Thomas is thrilled with the restoration work. The hat collection now is “just extremely organized,” he said. “It’s a great asset that’s not only for ART Station but for the theatrical community in Atlanta.”

Brown created a poster that depicts some of the collection.

“I just look forward to the day that I can walk into the ART Station and see the hats exhibited,” she said. “I think that that will be a nice feeling.”

The women behind the hats

ART Station’s vintage hats came from the collections of the following women:

  • Wilma Hipps — She formed and managed a statewide advocacy group, Georgians for Better Transportation, and was active in many civic organizations. Hipps was the first female director of the Stone Mountain Rotary Club.
  • Lucille Williams McCurdy — A Stone Mountain Woman’s Club member for more than 70 years, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs and was the first woman named “Mr. DeKalb” by the American Heart Association.
  • Sarah Alice Horton McCurdy — A lifetime member of the Stone Mountain Woman’s Club, she was a nurse who served as Southeastern Supervisor for the American Red Cross Blood Bank during World War II.
  • Grace Tuggle — She served as president of both the Stone Mountain Woman’s Club and the Fourth District of Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs.

 Sources: GFWC Stone Mountain Woman’s Club and Wilma Hipps’ obituary.

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.