Award-winning Kentucky artisan Chris Ramsay produces one-of-a-kind turned wooden bowls and other sculptures, but is most known for his turned hats. He has made more than 6,000 of them since he started turning about 20 years ago.
In the early 1980s, Ramsay received a lathe as a gift from his twin brother and started turning as a hobby. After creating a rimmed plant holder for his wife, he noticed that it looked like an upside down pilgrim’s hat without the belt buckle on it. He sensed a market and learned that the earliest wooden hats were made in the 18th century, and then spent $1,000 on a three-day course in Vermont to discover a few techniques.
“I pretty much figured this out on my own. It took me about 100 hats to where I was making some decent-looking ones. To get them to bend, it was just trial and error,” says Ramsay.
“I started to get a little bit of media coverage later on. There’s something about a wooden hat. If you put one in a room of 1,000 people, all of them will want it. With a bowl, it might be just a few. But everyone is fascinated by the hats.”
Ramsay sells his work through his website (www.chriswramsey.com) and several high-end galleries. He has been featured in several documentaries and has made five hats for former President George W. Bush, who he met in the Oval Office to discuss the projects.
The total hat-making process only takes a few days. After starting with a square block, he spends about an hour turning the hat. It’s then placed in an oval-shaped bending jig for about two days. The process is completed when he hand-sands the piece to get it smooth and finishes it with a catalyzed lacquer. He prefers making the hats from cherry, walnut, maple and oak. His wooden hats are suitable for display or can be comfortably worn since they weigh only 7 to 9 ounces.
Ramsey’s hat prices start at about $700 and up depending on embellishments and logos.
Contact: Knot-Head, 212 Ohio St., Somerset, KY 42501. Tel: 606-677-2466.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.