Tip of the Hat: Community, Identity, and Culture

2013, Brant Museum & Archives, History, Temporary Exhibit
Brant County, Brantford, costume, fashion, hats, history, indigenous interest, poster, promotional materials, QR codes, Six Nations of the Grand River, textile
About This Project

Date: March 21 – June 8, 2013

Partner: Brant Museum & Archives

Venue: Brant Museum & Archives – map

Project Members: Marie-Claire Eylott, Ashley MacKenzie, Ceiridwen Robbins, and Angharad Wenz


Hats and other headwear are symbols of identity. They represent the individual experience, yet are familiar to all cultures and generations. Using hats as markers of life’s milestones, this exhibition celebrated Brantford and Brant County through its residents. It portrayed people, past and present, through five cross-cultural, cross-generational benchmarks: learning; working; having fun; starting a family; and getting involved.


The exhibition was aimed at residents of Brantford and Brant County, and especially for families, as the subject matter crosses the generational divide. Visitors interested in fashion and fashion history might also have enjoyed this exhibition.


Tip of the Hat was located on the main floor near the entrance of the Brant Museum & Archives in Brantford, Ontario.


Funding for this project was provided by the Brant Historical Society and the University of Toronto Master of Museum Studies program. Additional support in the form of publicity was donated by Jacqueline Buscomb of Netty Vintage, Brantford.


The project began in September 2012, when Chelsea Carss, curator of the Brant Historical Society, pitched the idea of an exhibition using the Society’s seldom-seen collection of historic textiles. By November, the exhibition scope was set to a display of hats and a public campaign for submissions as a participatory element. Object selection occurred from December 2012 through February 2013. Public submissions were collected from January to March. The exhibition design was finalized in February, with text panels completed and printed in March. Installation was protracted due to the distances involved but was completed by mid-March, in time for the opening on March 21. The exhibition remained open until June 8, 2013.


Tip of the Hat displayed 40 hats categorized into themes of learning, working, having fun, starting a family, and getting involved. An introductory text panel and six thematic panels introduced the visitors to the thesis of the exhibition; tombstone labels were provided for each hat. QR codes allowed visitors to access extra information about certain topics; for those without smartphones, a binder in the gallery provided access to hard copies of the same information. An additional text panel highlighted beaded Glengarry hats created by Six Nations women during the 18th – 19th centuries. A monitor displayed a continuous loop of some 50 photographs of hats and people wearing hats submitted by members of the public; this created a visual link between the past and present residents of Brantford and Brant County. A bulletin board within the gallery allowed visitors to leave comments and/or drawings about what they had seen. This allowed visitors to engage with the material on display on a deeper level if they wished.


Most of our marketing was completed by ourselves; we engaged in a poster and cold-call campaign to raise awareness about the exhibition and invite the submission of photographs, images, and stories about hats. We also received some publicity on the Brant Historical Society web and Facebook pages. Our exhibition was mentioned in articles in the Brantford Expositor and the Wilfrid Laurier Sputnik newspapers. As special guests at the Myrtleville House Museum March Break Camp on March 12, we taught a hat-making craft to 11 campers and three camp counselors; this craft activity was much appreciated by the camp director, campers, and parents.


The exhibition was well-received by the public on opening night, March 21. Positive feedback included that the exhibition looked very professional and the amount of text was perfect. Many visitors were observed using the QR codes. Visitors who had submitted photos for the digital display watched the entire slideshow and kept coming back with friends and making them watch it, too. Museum Board members were pleased with the participatory elements of the exhibition, as this was a new practice for the Brant Historical Society.


We would like to thank the Brant Historical Society and the Faculty of Information for funding our exhibition, and our classmates and professors for their support and encouragement. Special thanks go to Jacqueline Buscomb for her enthusiasm and Paula Whitlow of the Woodlands Cultural Centre for her advice and knowledge. Most of all, we would like to thank all of the residents of Brantford and Brant County who welcomed us into their community and submitted photos to the exhibition.