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Feb 14
OCC’s Doyle Arts Pavilion Showcases 30 Years of Birthday Crowns at Newest Exhibit

woman from birthday crown society with elaborate book themed hatWhat began as a fun birthday tradition among friends 30 years ago has blossomed into an artistic movement that will be on full display at Orange Coast College's exhibit "Crowning Glory" at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion from Feb. 23 until April 8. 

In 1993, Kathleen McMurray asked a friend to make her a crown and present it to her in a ceremony for her birthday. McMurray was turning 40, and was uncomfortable with society's notion that she should feel a loss of personal power as she entered middle age. Instead, McMurray wanted to embrace a new coming of age, and celebrate a new, mature phase of her life, symbolized by the elaborate hat and the happy ritual associated with it. 

The joyful empowerment of the decade milestone-birthday hat caught on among her friends and family. Over the past three decades, an impromptu Birthday Crown Society has evolved to include elaborate hat-making parties, coronation ceremonies and parades. 

"The 'Crowning Glory' exhibition provides a special opportunity to reflect on the broader functions of art that we are rarely exposed to in the setting of the gallery," says curator Kim Garrison Means. "The phenomenon of the 'Birthday Crown Society' is one part contemporary performance, one part folk tradition, one part societal ritual and one part act of social rebellion, all wrapped up with a bow and a side of cake."

Photographer Erin Nomura has captured the vibrancy of these mad hatters in stunning portraits. The images — on display at the Doyle Arts Pavilion — reveal people of many ages celebrating the joy of donning a personal crown and embracing their place in life's journey. Also on display are the hats themselves, in all their sculptural glory. Reminiscent of Mardi Gras and Carnival masks, the materials used for these crowns are non-traditional and personal to the recipient, and can include kinetics, lights and interactive components. The resulting objects, including giant decoder rings, canoes, and rocket ships, are flamboyant, whimsical, stately and often ridiculous. 

"This is art made and performed as an act of pure joy, which is itself somewhat of a rarity in the modern art world. And that joy can belong to anyone, regardless of age, experience or talent," says Garrison Means. "It is art imbued with a joy to be shared with anyone who witnesses a coronation, encounters a decade birthday hat, or decides to make one of their own. There are many reasons to show the work of Crowning Glory, and much to learn from its examination, but none more important than this." 

The hats of "Crowning Glory" will be on display until April 8. The Birthday Crown Society hopes to inspire visitors to create a crown for their next decade birthday. 

The Doyle Arts Pavilion is open from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursdays. For more information visit