Historic Silent Auction of Hat Art Sends Off Beacon Historical Society

If you ever wanted to know what it's been like over the years to live in Beacon, just visit the current one-room archive of the Beacon Historical Society. The entire collection resides in the Howland Cultural Center, but will soon move to its new home at 17 South Ave., in the white house that is the former rectory of St. Andrew’s Church. "New home" is the key phrase here, as the society is getting ready to move beyond the single room it has occupied in the Howland Cultural Center - it literally is filled to the ceiling with this region's history. The volunteers, members and supporters of the Beacon Historical Society have been working for months, this fall especially, to fundraise for the new lease, which allows them to expand even more.

This Saturday is the highly anticipated auction of more than 50 hat silhouettes from over 50 artists, all using wood cutout hats as the canvas to depict Beacon’s past and present. The idea is similar to Newburgh's Lightbulb project: In its third year, participation has grown from 48 artists to 94 making art out of plywood lightbulb forms to connect art and awareness of the city's history. The remarkable hats on this side of the river, as well as goods from local businesses, will be offered at a silent auction to benefit the society. Members of the public will be able to view, and, if they wish, bid on the pieces of art this Saturday from 1 to 5 pm at the Howland Cultural Center. The hats will be on display throughout November, at which point the winning bidders can take home their art.

My own hat, a collage of newspaper articles from the first newspaper printed in Beacon in 1913, and clips from 1930s editions of The Beacon News. Clips were photographed from the Beacon Historical Society's collection of bound newspapers and color-printed at Accuprint, then glued onto the board.

My own hat, a collage of newspaper articles from the first newspaper printed in Beacon in 1913, and clips from 1930s editions of The Beacon News. Clips were photographed from the Beacon Historical Society's collection of bound newspapers and color-printed at Accuprint, then glued onto the board.

The Beacon Historical Society has kept track of the happenings of this region for centuries. It safeguards rare records of moments in history, such as a 1769 Rombout Precinct Tax List and copies of Civil War pension records, Beacon Incline Railway tickets, school notebooks, uniform buttons, operating records from Highland Hospital, and so much more, as described by Alison Rooney in her January 2016 article in the Highlands Current.

Inside the One-Room Collection

The society's collection fills every inch of the walls and carefully packed drawers and bins, and society members know where everything is. Upstairs in the library of the Howland are the bound books of The Beacon News, the paper so fine that it now disintegrates at the edges, requiring gloves and a proper lifting technique to turn the pages.

Robert Murphy, president of the Beacon Historical Society since 1998, has written its story-filled newsletter since 1981.

Robert (Bob) Murphy is the longtime president of the Beacon Historical Society and 2015 recipient of the Dutchess Award, presented by the Dutchess County Historical Society. He knows where every single historical item is, and is happy to show you exactly where to find it - like these volumes of The Beacon News that he allowed me and possibly others to photograph. (There are a few newspaper-based hat collages on display this weekend!)

Up these stairs and around the top narrow balcony, you'll find the volumes of newspapers...

Pass the lady on display in the current art show, and head to the end of the hall to find the newspapers.

Pretty soon, more pictures like this will have more wall space to fill at the Beacon Historical Society's new home.

About The Hats - One Could Be Yours!

Diane Lapis, a trustee of the Beacon Historical Society, has been exceptionally inspired by the exhibit: "Standing in front of the wood-decorated hats by local artists at the Howland Cultural Center, one is drawn to the hat designed by Victoria Raabin, entitled, 'Me Encanta la Forma Que Se,' loosely translated as 'I love the way you look.' It sums up the spirit that these artists brought to the Beacon Historical Society’s 40th anniversary 'Hats Off' exhibit and celebration. One can feel the artists' 'love' of Beacon, as it is seen today, and in our collective memory."

Each artist needed to supply an artist statement about their hat. Not all participants are artists in the traditional or professional sense. We have randomly selected a few hats to highlight, but you'll see many more when you visit (and place a bid!) this Saturday.

In typical form, Theresa Kraft thought “outside the box” or literally “inside the box” and put her hat in a frame. Beacon memorabilia from The Evening News’ reporter Dick Shea’s personal collection surrounds the hat. The piece is an assemblage of local newspaper clippings, brochures, and film negatives, alongside a scrapbook with more than 50 original black-and-white photos from the 1950s, complete with Shea's crop marks. This hat is a tribute to Mr. Shea and the City of Beacon, from Shea’s point of view through his camera lens and words - the insider.

Samantha Beste is a painter of city scenes. Beacon has inspired her to branch out into mixed media. It has been a pleasure for her to “mix it up” in this city.

Rebecca Finlay's "Tails" is a mythological hat inspired by the Hudson River. This artist considers what the river may have been like in the past… clean and full of life as the mermaid's tail suggests.


Karen Meyer has always loved working with her hands. Most of the time, that translates into her daytime job as a Licensed Massage Therapist. She had so much fun creating her entry for the "Hats Off" project. Her creativity is rekindled and she is anxious to get back into making art, mainly jewelry and multimedia pieces. 

As a longtime resident of Beacon, Anne Forman appreciates the Historical Society and looks forward to the monthly newsletters. She has always loved to draw and paint, and majored in art education. She finds joy in living and teaching in Beacon, especially when she sees former students who recall past projects.  To Anne, that is a great feeling!

Brenda Murnane has lived in Beacon since 1993. She has made a wonderful life here with her family and grown a wonderful soap business, Beacon Bath and Bubble. Beacon is near and dear to her.

Insun Kim has lived in the Hudson Valley since 1987. She discovered a love of nature through landscape painting and remains fascinated by it.  She has been building trees out of nails for 11 years. “To me, trees are beautiful with or without leaves changing in appearance throughout the seasons, in color, fruiting bodies, and structure. Just as every person has their own story to tell, the trees speckled throughout our community and those surrounding it have stories of their own.”

Getting Involved With Beacon's History

You can donate to and join the Beacon Historical Society at any time. It is how you will get delivery of their famed monthly newsletter, which shares stories of Beacon.

Original hats on display that were made in Beacon.