Historic Saranac Lake to unveil ‘A Life in Hats’

SARANAC LAKE – The Saranac Laboratory on Church Street is awash in the colorful hats of local artist Ursula Trudeau.

“I don’t have enough days in the year to wear all this stuff,” said Trudeau, taking a seat surrounded by her hats. She has just brought in more of her collection and Historic Saranac Lake staff are scurrying around, preparing the hats for the exhibit opening Friday.

“Behind every hat there is a story, and that’s the fun part, Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania said. “This has been a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know Ursula better.”

Catania thought of the idea for the exhibit during a presentation in the John Black Room last winter. “Ursula was there, wearing one of her amazing hats, and the idea just came to me. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to see Ursula’s hats in one place, in this lab that was founded by her husband’s grandfather, and to learn some of the stories behind them?”

Trudeau holds a special place in the community as a highly accomplished artist and a strong supporter of many local institutions. She is well known for her lovely hats, many of which are works of art in their own right. She is the widow of Dr. Frank Trudeau, whose grandfather, Dr. E. L. Trudeau, founded the Saranac Laboratory for the study of tuberculosis in 1894.

Ask Trudeau why she is rarely seen without a hat and her answer is simple.

“I am sensitive to the sun,” she said.

As she has traveled around the world she has collected an array of summer and winter hats, always with an artist’s eye for color and style. There are hats from China and Mexico, from designers in Montreal and New York, and from hatshops closer to home, like Altman’s in Saranac Lake and Where did you get that Hat? in Lake Placid.

“Ursula has been very generous with her time,” Historic Saranac Lake Program Manager Libby Clark said. “She is an amazing storyteller and has a hysterical sense of humor. The whole project has been a lot of fun.”

The Saranac Laboratory Museum has been open since 2009 with exhibits on science, patient care and Saranac Lake history. For this, the museum’s first art exhibition, Historic Saranac Lake is relying on the expertise of local artist Diane Leifheit.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without Diane’s expert eye and advice.” Catania said. Leifheit is designing the poster for the exhibit, which features a handpainted portrait of Ursula, in a hat, of course.

The public is invited to an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory, 89 Church St., Saranac Lake.