Work of Art: The Hatstack by Walter May

Next time you walk by Hotel Le Germain, take a closer look at this sculpture.

The Hatstack (2017) by Walter May.
The Hatstack (2017) by Walter May. Photograph by Walter May.

Title: The Hatstack, 2017
Artist: Walter May
Media: Patina on bronze, concrete.
Size: 19-feet-by-28-inches diameter.
Location: 899 Centre St. S.W.
Notes: Commissioned by Hotel Le Germain Calgary. Bronze components were produced by Fonderie d’Art d’Inverness, Quebec. Fabrication and installation by Heavy Industries, Calgary.

Walter May’s slender columnar sculpture stands out from its prime downtown surroundings with gold-bronze warmth. Reflected in the windows and polished stone of Hotel Le Germain, it fits perfectly under the lofty cantilever that shields the corner sidewalk across from the Calgary Tower. The structure is cunning and worth a close look: 33 bronze hats are paired and stacked, brim-to-brim and crown-to-crown. They appear identical, but each has slight surface variations from the sandcasting, chasing and patina processes. They rise from a stout cast-concrete base, also a carefully considered component. The vertical repetition of symmetrical elements sets a visual rhythm, like the vertebrae of a spine. The overall effect is of balance and harmony, with the suggestion of building, growth and cooperation.

One of Canada’s senior sculptors, Walter May has participated in exhibitions and residencies worldwide. He calls the hat in this sculpture the “forefather of all other cowboy hats.” The model is the classic “Boss of the Plains,” a Smithbilt version of the one John B. Stetson designed in 1865 to meet the challenges of life on the prairies: it can hold water, shed water, keep you warm and offer protection from heat and sun.

May, who taught at the Alberta College of Art + Design for more than 30 years, has an extensive understanding of art history. With gentle humour he puts a new spin on Calgary’s iconic hat, but also on one of 20th century’s most famous sculptures, Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, replacing pyramids with cowboy hats, and the symbolism of infinity with Western pragmatism.

Walter May is represented locally by Paul Kuhn Gallery. Another of his works, Grindstone, 2002, is on display on the second floor at the Bow Valley College South Campus. May also has an exhibition opening in January 2018 at the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary.

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