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Hat Project a Hit with Lander University Students

November 08, 2010

MAT Hat ProjectA new line of hats has been spotted on the campus of Lander University.

Fedoras they're not. They'd look more at home in a Mardi Gras parade than on the head of Indiana Jones.

Created by students in assistant professor of art Doug McAbee's "Design and Sculpture" class, the hats were made not from traditional materials like felt, but from sheets of cardboard, bent into new shapes, joined with Elmer's glue or duct tape and finished with eye-catching colors.

McAbee's students, who are all pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching, were told to create hats that would serve "as an advertisement for a mate." Hali Kitchen of Prosperity responded by bringing together a handsaw, hammer and other trade-specific objects in her valentine to a handyman.

Greenwood resident Nena McConnell answered McAbee's challenge to make the hats as large as possible with "Nessie," a pitch to her boyfriend, Scott, and his fascination with the Loch Ness monster.

The requirement that participants should wear their hats during the critique seems reasonable enough. It proved daunting for Ralph "Wes" Westbrook of Greenwood, whose crown of books -- an advertisement for a mate who likes to read -- kept sliding off his head.

The Cardboard Hat Project has been one of McAbee's favorites since he devised it while teaching as an adjunct professor of art at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

"It's a great project for art students because it engages them on different levels at the same time," he said. "They have to use only cardboard, which pushes them to think of different ways of using the material to generate curves, smooth surfaces, various textures or organic forms."

Having to make the hat large, wearable and attractive to a mate "pushes students to think beyond what they already know and forces them to try new ideas and stretch out mentally," he said.

McAbee tried to design a project that his students could "simply alter and use again in the art classes they'll teach."

Ivy Vartanian of Due West feels that McAbee has done just that.

"I would like to teach middle school most of all, and with that age group, this project would be doable the way it is, with changes such as a smaller size requirement, and perhaps a table top sculpture instead of a wearable hat," she said. A lesson on "the many ways that you can attach things," she added, would probably need to be included, too.

"Many art teachers feel as though sculpture is too hard or too involved to teach," said Julia Pridmore of Greenwood. "Professor McAbee is trying to break down this barrier and help us feel comfortable with a variety of budget-friendly 3-D materials."

"If I teach middle or high school, I will definitely teach a lesson using recycled cardboard," she said.

Visual Arts Department chair Dr. Linda Neely, who sat in on McAbee's class the day his students modeled their finished hats and fielded questions about them, took away a positive impression of what she had seen.

"Doug McAbee's teaching is characterized by high challenge, high expectation, and by the intrinsic motivational quality of his assignments. What an exciting opportunity for our students!" she said.