SALEM — Hats, hats, all around. This year’s Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibition HATS: An Anthology of Stephen Jones, has prompted an explosion in the attention being given to hats.
This year an exceptional entry crossed the threshold at Salem Arts Association’s PEM-inspired show “Off the Top of Your Head.” For the sixth year, the SAA show drew entries from all over the region. The SAA actually drew in milliners and fashionistas in addition to conventional media. The exhibit hung in the carriage barn of the Andrew-Safford House in Salem (its use donated by PEM) for the month of September. Sue Grillo, a Salem artist, entered one the most impressive pieces in the SAA show.
Grillo is a two-time breast cancer survivor, diagnosed originally in 2002 and then again in 2010. Did you know that women can get reimbursements to buy wigs because they lose their hair — sometimes up to $300 — yet they cannot be reimbursed for hats? Most women prefer hats, especially in the summer months because they breathe, and in the winter because they can be warmer.
When Grillo was first without hair she began to crave a hat that would keep the back of her neck warm. None could be found in her research that could feel like the hair on the back of your neck. As an artist who attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Mass College of Art and Design in Boston, Grillo had worked 15 years designing costumes for experimental theatre in Boston — so it was natural that she began to sketch what she was looking for and could not find. The sketches developed during her first round but no prototype was created as she began her second round of chemotherapy. Although in her sketchbook it had developed into a full-blown, fleshed out, and complete concept ready to be executed.