A sea of bright pink coursed through images of worldwide protest Jan. 21 as marchers took to the streets to back women’s rights and oppose newly ascendant President Trump. Many wore hand-knitted pink hats with cat ears — “pussy hats,” as they are edgily called.
When she ordered one from an online marketplace, Beth McLaughlin, 45, of Sharon, wondered whether she’d be a lone pink dot at the Washington, D.C., Women’s March.
The answer was crystal clear as she surveyed the D.C. crowd on the first full day of Trump’s presidency, and as she did so, McLaughlin said, “A light bulb went off in my head.”
Why not build a collection of the hats to capture the historical moment?
McLaughlin was in a unique position to launch such an effort precisely because of the work hat she wears: chief curator of exhibitions and collections for Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton.
Soon after her epiphany, McLaughlin started e-mailing people and posting inquiries on social media platforms, spreading the word that the museum wanted to collect and exhibit the suddenly popular new headwear.
Although the museum features crafts from other activist movements, said McLaughlin, the initiative marked the first time it had deliberately sought items to document a grass-roots movement primarily fueled by people doing their own crafting.
“It’s really thrilling being able to participate, in a way, as it is happening,” she said. “We’re a small museum trying to do big things.”
Just under two months since the initiative was launched, the museum has collected about 35 hats, two-thirds of the way to its goal. It plans to mount its exhibition on Jan. 21, 2018, a year to the day after the hats made their worldwide debut. After that limited-time show, McLaughlin said, the museum hopes to add some of the items to its permanent display and store all the donations in its archives.
Donations to the planned exhibit aren’t limited to hats, although they are preferred. Other crafts, such as pin-sized versions of the hats, have been donated, and McLaughlin said the museum will consider all donations that help demonstrate varieties of hand-crafted social activism.
The museum will brainstorm specific details of the exhibition in a couple of months, but McLaughlin said she envisions the use of photos and posters.
“Basically an exhibition that will tell the story of social activism through craft,” she said, “and where it goes from here, which still remains to be seen.”
Cynthia Barnes, 31, of Weymouth, said she came across one of the museum’s fliers on a local knitting group’s Facebook page. She said she didn’t think twice about donating the pink hat that she crocheted and wore at the Boston Women’s March.
“I couldn’t get my hat there fast enough,” Barnes said. “Art is always an important form of expression, and I think it is important to capture it in a positive light.”
The idea of the hats sprang from a group of friends in Los Angeles, including Newton native Jayna Zweiman and screenwriter Krista Suh, shortly after Hillary Clinton’s November defeat. Suh wanted to make a statement, not just march, at the D.C. demonstration. After a couple of days of brainstorming, the friends came up with the notion of the hats and launched a website to promote what Suh envisioned as an “amazing sea of pink.’’
Those founding organizers like the museum’s initiative, McLaughlin said, and one of them sent a box of items for the exhibition, including the test hat for the project’s knitting pattern and copies of the Time magazine issue that featured a hat on its front cover.
Fuller Craft isn’t alone in archiving post-Inauguration Day activism. In Boston, Northeastern University scholars collected signs from the Boston Women’s March and planned to archive them at the university’s library. The Michigan State University Museum launched a similar initiative, collecting crafted works of activism that emerged from the marches in D.C. and Lansing, Mich.
And across the Atlantic in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a hat on display as a part of what it calls “rapid response collecting,” meant to document historical moments “that touch the world of design and manufacturing,” according to its website.
Fuller Craft may soon display a hat or two, McLaughlin said, to tease the planned exhibition.
For Barnes, the Weymouth hat donor, doing so made her feel more invested in the movement.
“I am not necessarily a political activist,’’ she said, “but donating the hat makes me feel connected to others — people I haven’t even met.”