Cuenca and Montecristi show off their Panama hat craft at New York’s Museum of Modern Art

Oct 20, 2017

An exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art showcasing the history and craft of Ecuador’s Panama hat is causing a dust-up among some museum-goers. “Is clothing design and manufacturing really art?” a critic asked in the New York Post.

Panama hats in a Cuenca shop.

According the exhibit curators at the museum, popularly known as MoMa, the answer is yes.

The hat exhibit, which open in early September features a selection of hats made in Montecristi, the home of the straw sombrero, and in Cuenca, from which most hats are exported.

The exhibit includes Hólger Domingo, a master hat weaver from Montecristi, who took more than a month and a half to make a tightly woven hat, known in the trade as a superfino. For much of September, Domingo performed “live” for five hours a day at MoMa, weaving from the toquilla palm straw that grows in Ecuador’s lowlands.

For Domingo, hat-weaving is an artisanal craft and a top-grade hat is a work of art. “We want to show our work to the world and want our children in Montecristi and Cuenca to understand the artistic value of the work we do,” he says, explaining that younger generations of Ecuadorians have little interest in maintaining the hat-weaving tradition.

The Panama hat exhibit continues at MoMa through February 2018.