Ever wonder what inspired many of the wild and whimsical hats worn by the characters in the Dr. Seuss books?
It was the real-life hat collection owned by the author and illustrator of the books, Theodor Seuss Geisel.
“He started in the early 1920s, and at one point, he had 500 hats,” said Bill Dreyer, curator of the Art of Dr. Seuss collection managed by Chase Art Companies of Chicago.
Dreyer will be giving a free talk about 26 of the hats — on tour for the first time, along with information about Geisel’s prints, paintings and sculpture — on Saturday at the P&C Art Gallery in Alexandria.
“It’s a rare chance to see some of the original hat collection,” said Dreyer, about Geisel’s cache of headware that he kept in a closet in his house in La Jolla, Calif.
Visitors on Saturday are invited to wear a Dr. Seuss-inspired hat, and there will be a drawing for a Seuss piece in the gallery, said Deneice Mazziotta, a consultant with P&C Art Gallery, currently the only gallery authorized to sell Dr. Seuss reproductions.
The traveling hat exhibit, which debuted at the New York Public Library in February, will run through Nov. 17 at P&C.
Geisel graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925 and also studied English at the University of Oxford in England. He worked in advertising for many years and also did some editorial cartooning before writing his first children’s book in the late 1930s and later serving in World War II.
Geisel is credited with coining the word “nerd” in his 1950 book, “If I Ran the Zoo,” which was followed by classics such as “The Cat in the Hat” (wearing his distinctive red-and-white striped stovepipe), “Green Eggs and Ham,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Sneetches and Other Stories.”
After Geisel’s death in 1991 at the age of 87, his widow, Audrey Geisel, authorized the sale of copies of his work, said Dreyer. Geisel’s originals are housed at the University of California at San Diego or will be going to designated museums, he said.
Available at the P&C Art Gallery will be prints made from drawings from a dozen of Geisel’s 44 children books. Prices for the prints start at $255, said Mazziotta.
Also available will be paintings that Geisel did for his own enjoyment called his “secret art,” which was rarely exhibited.
“This is the unknown side of his artistic legacy,” said Dreyer.
Prices for “secret art” start at $1,000 for unframed pieces, $1,600 with frames, said Mazziotta.
In addition, Geisel also created mixed-media sculptures of fanciful animals called the “unorthodox taxidermy” collection. Prices start at $1,800, she said.
“His appeal is so broad,” said Mazziotta about the Dr. Seuss books. “He’s been translated into 20 languages around the world.”