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Grandeur & Grace: Portraits of Black Women in their Church Hats

February 1 - August 13

Three Black Women Wearing Hats - Celebration of the Hat Ladies

Polk County artist Ronald Malone was inspired to paint a collection of women wearing their church hats after seeing a family out shopping one Sunday; the grandmother crowned in a beautiful pink hat with colorful flowers on top. The dynamics of how this family interacted with the grandmother was mesmerizing to Malone.

A signature member of the Florida Watercolor Society, Malone partnered with the Luster All African American Heritage Museum to recruit 21 women to sit for a portrait in their church hats. Realistic and colorful, the portraits include Polk County women from Lakeland, Bartow, Mulberry, Haines City, Fort Meade and Winter Haven.

In recognition of Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, the Polk County History Center will host an exhibition of the completed portraits, the featured hats and the history of millinery work in Polk County in the first-floor gallery. Additional information about the exhibit can be found at www.polkhistorycenter.org.

History Center hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Closed on major holidays.

Writing in his book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats,” Craig Marberry reflects that, “Church hats are a peculiar convergence of faith and fashion that keeps the Sabbath both holy and glamorous.”

In the United States, the practice of wearing a hat to church is thought to stem from Paul’s first letter to the 1 Corinthians 11:5, which says, “But every woman that prayeth or prosphesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.” For many, the tradition transcends religion and is representative of a collective history marked by both tragedy and triumph.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Helen K. Thomas, storyteller and Fulbright Fellow, describes hat wearing as “the sense of connection you inherently feel with your ancestors and your community, an expression of blackness and black culture that embodies self-expression, dignity, identity, tradition and respect.” Culturally, the tradition may even predate slavery, with influence from West Africa where headwraps, such as the gele, originated and remain popular.


February 1
August 13
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Polk County History Center
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Polk County History Center
100 E Main Street
Bartow, Florida 33830 United States
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