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Nebraska designer’s hat displayed in New York’s Met Museum

January 13, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Neb. (AP) — A little art shop on Main Street in Springfield, Nebraska, features creative, charming and whimsical hats handmade by Omaha milliner Margie Trembley.

For a few more weeks, a gallery at the venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is featuring a singular version of the exact same thing.

Trembley’s inclusion in the Milliners Guild show at the 146-year-old museum is her latest accomplishment in an artistic genre she embraced about seven years ago, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Her purple felt, leather and sequined hat, a piece of headgear that looks like it belongs in an earlier era — maybe the 1930s or ’40s — is among 28 hats in the New York show, which runs through the end of the month. She attended an opening party for the exhibit in early December, partly thanks to GoFundMe fundraising site contributions.

“My first time at the Met. People tell me this is huge,” she said.

The hat workshop and business she runs out of the historic Springfield building she shares with her husband, Glenn, builds on her previous artistic pursuits. She started out as a glass artist (her husband’s medium), at one point etching big panes for the doors of a retirement center in Chicago.

Glass and metal are heavy, so that took a toll on her body.

“I thought, ‘I’ll go to pot, if I’m not already there,’” she joked.

So she switched to felting, the process of rubbing wool with olive oil to harden it.

When she attended a wool festival in Wisconsin, events included a hat-making session. That led to a new passion.

“I started from nothing and had no skills,” she said of her millinery launch. “I have taken tons and tons of classes to learn all these things that nobody would have a clue it takes to make a hat.”

She had to learn how to use a sewing machine and how to stretch fabric over wooden molds and steam it to actually create the hats. Many of her hat forms come from France, known for its millinery. She has even used teak salad bowls as forms. Some fabric comes from the Czech Republic. She has made hats out of felt, straw, velour and material made out of cork, among other things.

Trembley loves embellishments: jewels, scarves, ribbons, fur, leather, even fake flora and fauna — one purple and green hat on display in her shop looks like a hill with a valley that holds what looks like tall grass.

“Nature inspires me a lot,” she said.

Between hat-making and her husband’s work, the back room of their Springfield shop is a mélange of patterns, mounds of fabric, hanging glass art, etching tools, huge exotic feathers, vintage hats she gets for ideas and all kinds of other artistic trappings on shelf after shelf. As she reluctantly takes a visitor on a tour, Trembley declares it “a disaster,” though she can go straight to something she knows will look great on her latest creation.

The Trembleys bought their space when they moved to Omaha from Joplin, Missouri, one of several places they’ve lived in more than 50 years of marriage. They met in college in Arkansas.

Eventually, Margie Trembley got proficient enough to call her business Margie Trembley Chapeaux, sell her hats for $300 to $650 and take orders for custom-made headgear. The hat shop is one of several careers she’s carved out over 73 years. When she moved to Omaha, for example, she sold real estate and operated a relocation business for people who were transferred to the city.

Omaha resident Shirley Neary owns two of Trembley’s custom-made hats: a small pink fascinator that she wears on the side of her head and a larger gray sunhat. She wore both at the Kentucky Derby in 2016.

“I liked that they were made by a local artist,” said Neary, who heard about the milliner through her involvement with fiber arts groups. “Margie’s craftsmanship is excellent. ... She obviously loves her work. It is so much fun to do business with her. I definitely fit in (at the Derby) wearing Margie’s hats.”

At one of her many classes, Trembley connected with members of the Milliners Guild, a trade group for small-business owners. She said her membership in the guild was her “in” for the Met show, especially since she’s located in the Midwest instead of a fashion center such as New York or California. Couture milliners aren’t plentiful in Nebraska.

“You have to have connections — it’s all about connections,” she said. “If I didn’t belong to the Milliners Guild, I’d still be sitting in Springfield waiting for people to see my hats.”

Guild member Wanda Chambers of New York City has known Trembley for several years and is a fellow exhibitor in the Met show as well as an earlier event. She said she has enjoyed getting to know the Omaha artist and praised her entries in both exhibits.

“They were nicely done,” Chambers said.

The longtime New York milliner also said Trembley has a good personality and good people skills and is just a bit adventurous, not only for venturing from Nebraska to the East Coast but also for what happened at the launch party.

“When I first came to the Met, I wasn’t going to put my hat on, but I ran into Margie and her friend and they had on their hats. So I put mine on and we walked to the exhibit” and people asked for autographs, she said. “We were like celebrities.”

Trembley has had hats on display in other exhibits — at the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney; in Richmond, Virginia; and even Australia. Her hats have been to the Kentucky Derby and in Omaha Fashion Week. She also gives speeches about hatmaking.

But she definitely views Margie Trembley Chapeaux as a commercial venture.

“Showing doesn’t make me any money, honey. I’ve got to sell them,” she said.

Still, there’s nothing like having something you created displayed at the Met.

“To see one of your hats alongside other milliners’ hats and people appreciating what goes into making these fine pieces of art just warms my heart,” she said in a thank-you note on her GoFundMe page. “You have made my Christmas memories from 2018 very special.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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