By April Short
City on a Hill Press Editor
With tufts of feathers surrounding colorful orbs, intricately splattered and faded paint, and designs that capture and warp the natural world, pieces of Charlie Tweddle’s art sit perched like birds of prey atop the heads of Hollywood’s stars.
Tweddle is a local Santa Cruz artist who has designed hats for such celebrities as Goldie Hawn, Chris Robinson of the Black Crows, the Eagles, Cher, Kris Kristofferson, and many more.
“Kate Hudson called one time and I didn’t even know who she was. I talked to her for about 45 minutes. She was such a nice person. We just talked about all kinds of stuff,” said Tweddle, in a lingering Kentucky drawl. Tweddle said baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson has come into his backyard workshop several times to have hats specially designed.
Tweddle is a surrealistic sculptor, painter, musician and poet. He has also produced a CD and book entitled “Encounter with Charlie Tweddle.” The book includes poems and pictures that come together in odds and ends to tell his story. Tweddle’s hat design brought him almost accidentally into world-renowned fame.
“I wanted to be an artist — a real artist, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to be a damn hat designer. And I got pissed off. And the more angry I got, the more outrageous I made the hats. I thought damn, these son-of-a-guns, I’m just gonna see if I can make ‘em so mad they wont buy them anymore,” Tweddle said. “But the more outrageous I made them the faster they sold. And I couldn’t believe it — I’d never had anything happen like that before.”
Tweddle’s hats are possibly the least outrageous pieces of art he creates. A Tweddle sculpture hangs suspended inside of an octagonal glass case near the front of his living room. It is a magnificent creature with seagull’s wings outstretched above a pigeon-sized body and a turkey’s head, with the tail of a squirrel and a possum’s feet.
Tweddle grew up in the backcountry town of Pickneyville, Kentucky–a town of about 60 people–without running water or electricity. Nature was and has since been essential to the way he lives his life. It is at the heart of his art. He said that when he was a kid he used to hunt, and upon looking at the animals he had caught, he would become mesmerized with their natural beauty. Nature’s influence is visible in all that Tweddle produces.
Maria Sentry has owned the Hat Company in downtown Santa Cruz for four years. The Hat Company is a local retail store that sells all varieties of hats, including Tweddle creations.
“I think [Tweddle hats] are elegant and unusual and I’m happy to say that I own one,” Sentry said. “What makes them special is that each one is different — no two are the same.”
An indoor fire crackled against a bitter Santa Cruz afternoon as Tweddle recalled his stumble toward success from a dark green living room couch.
“I was drinking beer with a guy that I knew and we were packing all of my stuff up in my pickup,” Tweddle said. “I got over on Highway 5 and all of a sudden I realized I had left this old hat that I had gotten from this old Mexican guy in Texas for $2. And I just loved that hat, it was all sweaty lookin’ and, you know, kind of like…” Tweddle pointed to several of his own hats that sit on wooden stands around the room.
In hopes of recreating the hat he had lost, Tweddle designed several hats of his own, which he would wear to perform music. When he and his wife were short on cash, she encouraged him to bring six of the hats he had modified into a local consignment store.
To Tweddle’s surprise, the hats sold out in a week. The consignment store owner brought Tweddle to Oakland, where they bought almost an entire pickup load of hats on wholesale.
“And I started doing my thing. I started Tweddlizing hats,” he said with a grin.
Now, Tweddle’s hats, all of which he crafts in his backyard shed workshop, sell for between $450 and $2,000, although he said that recently they have sold less frequently due to the economy.
Jack Howe is a local Santa Cruz artist who met Tweddle at an art show. He and Tweddle agreed to exchange art for hats. Howe is now the proud owner of several Tweddle creations.
“Everything [Tweddle] does is very wack but very beautiful,” Howe said. “I saw him walk down near the mall once and hand one of his hats to a homeless person for free. He acted just like he does with a star or something. He said ‘Oh, this matches your eyes,’ or ‘Let me change this for you and bring it back.’ He treats everyone the same — that’s a good feature of Charlie’s.”