Dr. Seuss had a secret.
Though he shared many of his talents, characters and stories with the world, he kept one or two of his interests far from the public eye — until now.
Dr. Seuss, also know as Theodor Geisel, spent years collecting hats. At the time of his death on Sept. 24, 1991, he had accumulated about 158 chapeaus.
Thanks to Geisel's wife, Audrey, about 27 never-before-seen hats from Dr. Seuss' private collection, along with prints Geisel created, will be on display at Brea's Sarah Bain Gallery for the exhibit, “Hats Off to Dr. Seuss!”
“One day while I was at her home for a retrospective I was working on, Mrs. Geisel's asked me if I'd like to see her husband's hat closet,” said collection curator Bill Dreyer. “She led me to a hidden room inside the library where there were all these hats. It was like looking into a treasure trove.”
Dreyer believed Geisel's wonderful collection shouldn't remain locked away.
“I asked Mrs. Geisel if we could share it and was so thrilled when she said yes,” he said.
Dreyer explained that these hats, which have never before left the house, are not just generic, random hats. They are significant through American history and include a Nazi helmet, a concentration camp cap and an Italian Fascist Fez.
The touring display also honors the 75th anniversary of Dr. Seuss' second book, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” The exhibition will travel the country and visit select venues throughout the next year.
Dreyer said he was enamored with Dr. Seuss' children's books growing up and became aware of his artwork in the 1970s. He received permission to display prints in the late 1990s; originals do not leave the house.
About 50 prints of Geisel's art work also will be on display and most will be available for acquisition.
“It's the artist side of the man that intrigues me,” he said. “It's a side of him that the world doesn't know; that he purposely kept separated from the public. Still very few people know about his art and even fewer about his hat collection. Through this exhibition people will have a better appreciation of who he was as an artist and as a person.”
Sally Wararanch Rajcic, owner and director of the Sarah Bain Gallery, is beyond thrilled that her gallery is one of the first places to reveal the collection.
“I feel so fortunate,” she said. “We grew up with Dr. Seuss, our kids grew up with Dr. Seuss and someday their kids will grow up with Dr. Seuss. There isn't anybody that can read that doesn't know him. He is such an icon.”
The Sarah Bain Gallery is typically reserved for fine art, but is making an exception for this extraordinary collection.
“I just had to carry his work,” she said. “You know when people ask who you would want to sit down and share a meal with? He would be my choice. He is still so relevant. He has influenced so many famous people. He has changed so many lives.”
Geisel continues to change lives through his art with the exhibition including signed “Green Eggs and Ham: Would You? Could You? In a Car,” serigraph prints featuring the signature championship NASCAR driver, Jeff Gordon.
Each purchase of a Jeff Gordon signed “Would You? Could You? In a Car” print will help support Hats Off to Hope! a partnership between Dr. Seuss Enterprises, Chase Art Companies, Random House Children's Books and the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, which aims to bring hope, comfort and support to thousands of children battling cancer in the United States.
Viewing the exhibition is free.
“I realize and appreciate what a rare privilege this is,” Wararanch Rajcic said. “It's one thing to read his books, but to see his art work — to experience his hobbies — is something very special.”