Seniors Speak Out

Creative Passion

Man with white hat.

Jack Simmons proudly dons one of his creations; note the open clam shell eyes and the miniature terra cotta flowerpot nose.

Hobbies keep the mind and body young in spirit, and Jack Simmons’ hat making is no exception—his hats are harbingers of cheer, reflecting a whimsy too easily lost as we age.  Jack, a resident of Barclay Friends Continuing Care Community in West Chester, shares more about his creative passion below.

“I [began by collecting] hats with advertisements on them,” Jack says.  “And then I just started puttering around, putting birds and bees on top,” he smiles.  “I had around thirty when I first moved here, but they take up a lot of space.”

There’s an Irish-themed bowler hat and a black hat with an arrow piercing an apple.  “I forget that guy’s name,” says Jack, referring to the legendary William Tell, a 14th century Swiss marksman who defied authority and was set to be executed.  William was able to save both his life and the life of his son by completing a task—taking only one shot with a crossbow to pierce an apple placed on the top of his son’s head.

Some of his hats are adorned with fancy tie clips and unique pins Jack has collected over the years, including a bridled horse, a piano and a whale.

Red cowboy hat with butterflies and birds.

Colorful butterflies, feathered birds and a swan grace this red woven cowboy hat.

Others feature plastic figurines and flowers—a cowboy hat has a ring of horses—and attached to the back of another is an almost life-sized glossy photograph of his face, a decoration sure to make passersby look twice.  “The artificial flowers look real,” says Jack.  “I get everything from the Dollar Store.  I need a staple gun,” he adds, “because everything keeps falling off.”  Jack also lauds the creative merits of using clams.  “Clam shells are fun, I like them—you can make a lot of stuff with them.”

“I was always busy,” he recalls, describing how he finished the tops of chimneys with new brick and copper flashing—as a hobby!  Jack grew up in Warwick, NY in the same house he was born in.  His brother was in the service and he was drafted as well, serving two years in engineering.  He eventually took up the family business—plumbing and heating—and worked for twenty years at the International Paper Company in the Research Department.

Navy hat with bird and nest.

This navy canvas pork pie hat boasts a cardinal perched in its nest and is encircled with coins and metal buttons.

One wall of Jack’s room is filled with a sun figure that he carved himself from two pieces of wood.  How long did it take to finish?  “Well that’s hard to say,” he answers.  “You carve some and then get tired and then go back to it later.  I carved a drummer boy too.”  Glancing through photo albums unearths more past projects, including a model house (similar to a bird house) that served as a lamp for a lighted pathway.

“I’m a kid at heart, more or less,” Jack admits.  “I switch the hats around depending on my mood.”  What do people say when they see Jack in one of his hats?  He smiles and recounts, “They say, ‘I like that hat.’”