Hat’s Off to an Idyllwild Arist

Darwin created Wooley's hat sculpture

Art is everywhere in Idyllwild, and some appear in places that you’d least expect–such as on top of a shopping mall roof and covering ugly old propane tanks. Yet, it doesn’t seem so unusual when you’d meet local artist T.J. Darwin.

He’s a fine artist, educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but has lived and worked in Idyllwild for years. He sees the big picture, thinks like a marketer, and uses his talents to help local businesses, such as Wooley’s, Fairway Market and Dore’s Mountain Metals.

What’s most important for Wooley’s is that Darwin wears hats.

“Wooley’s sells hats, but not a lot of people knew that,” said Darwin. “So I convinced the owner to put a hat on the roof.”

It was more than just any old hat, mind, you, but a very large one, about the size of a Mini Cooper. It’s made of wood and resin and measures 8 feet, by 6 feet by 4.3 feet. Despite its size, it’s lightweight enough to sit on top of the shopping mall roof.

Located in the Village Centre, Wooley’s sells wool and sheepskin products, including hats, gloves, coats and rugs. The owner gave Darwin “carte blanche” on the style, shape and size of hat that he wanted create. He used one of his own hats as inspiration.

“The owner was horrified at first, because she thought that the hat would fall through the roof,” Darwin of Wooley’s owner’s reaction. “But now she loves it.”

The dark brown hat resembles a lot of Western-style hats on sale in the store. Think of the hats from the popular movies, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” and “Indiana Jones.”

Darwin said that it took him about two months to create the hat in his friend Don Teele’s garage.

“I thought he’d never get it out of there,” Don said.

Darwin and Teale with oversized hat

It has about 12 coats of exterior latex paint on it and oil-based polyurethane coating on top, explained Darwin. The Wooley’s hat needs to withstand Idyllwild’s harsh temperatures, including snow, wind and rain.

Darwin, Don and two other friends hoisted the oversized hat onto Wooley’s roof from the back of a pickup truck. Luckily, it didn’t incur any damage, but Darwin added one more coat of paint, just to be sure.

“Once we got it up, the hat looked good on the roof, but it needed something more,” Darwin said. So he added a white “Wooley’s” logo to the front of the hat, and an Idyllwild landscape sign behind it.

“Once the logo was on the hat, and we added the backdrop, it took everything to the next level,” said Darwin. “It worked.”

The backdrop sign, which features Idyllwild nature scenes and animals, took Darwin another month to complete. It features Lilly Rock, Tahquitz Peak, a deer, mountain lion and eagle, and a collection of rocks from Anza. The composite image is similar to the ones he’s created on propane tanks.

“The propane tank that I painted for Fairway Market took me one week,” Darwin explained. “And the last propane tank that I did (for an Idyllwild resident) only took 10 hours.”

Darwin created the images on the Fairway Market propane tank for free.

“I had to drum up some business,” he said. “People needed to see up close what I could do with propane tanks.”

Although necessary, propane tanks can be unsightly white, oblong obtrusions in an otherwise beautiful landscape. Instead of constructing a fence around these tanks, Darwin gives Idyllwild homeowners an option: paint.

Yet painting on a capsule-shaped metal tank is not the same as painting on a flat canvas. Darwin used a projector at night to project his own photographs of Lilly Rock and Tahquitz Peak onto the tank.

“Some people may think that using a projector is ‘cheating’ or ‘tracing,’ like you did in grade school, but with the distortion of the tank, it’s necessary,” Darwin explained. “It gives me a framework to work from and saves a lot of time.”

With the framed Idyllwild backdrop, the oversized hat looked like a piece of art. “But it’s been great for drumming up business for Wooley’s,” he said.

Darwin works from a small studio in the back of the Village Lane (near the Greek Restaurant).

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