University Fernando Pessoa

Sérgio Lira

University Fernando Pessoa

Praça 9 de Abril, no 349 4249-004 Porto Portugal

The Hat Industry Museum Project

By the end of the nineties, the municipality of S. Joatilde;o da Madeira (a small industrial town in the north of Portugal) decided to undertake the project of creating a museum that would preserve the memory of its industrial activity. The first hat industry documented for S. Joatilde;o da Madeira dates back to 1802. By 1867 there were fifteen documented hat factories. In the beginning of the 20th century (Amaral, 1967: 134) this industry had become the most important activity of the town. By the mid-sixties, the town was the only hat industry centre in Portugal. So, the recent history of S. Joatilde;o da Madeira is deeply marked by this industrial phenomenon.

For the purpose of creating the Hat Industry Museum, the City Hall acquired in 1995 the building and the remains of the biggest factory, the Empresa Industrial de Chapelaria, (Costa, Luis, 1987; Costa, Levi, 1997). The building (figure 1), though incomplete was still a significant example of industrial architecture. Thus, from the beginning, the development of the museological programme had to be coordinated with the pre-existence of a building (Lira e Menezes, 2001; Lira, Fernandes e Santos, 2003). The team was multidisciplinary from the departure, including people from museum studies, architecture, engineering, anthropology, public relations, heritage, conservation and restoration and other areas (Lira, 2001). The scientific supervision of the project was my responsibility from the beginning, and for that propose the City Hall and the University Fernando Pessoa signed a protocol of scientific cooperation. I was responsible for the museological programme too (Lira, 2002) (Lira, 2003). European funds and City Hall own resources funded the project.

On what concerns the architectural intervention it was decided that the main characters of the building were to be preserved (Lira, Fernandes e Santos, 2003). In the spatial organisation of the functional areas of the museum the memory of the ancient factory is preserved, not only in objects or in audio and video records, but also in the architectural spaces. Another of the initial aims that conditioned the architectural project was the concern with creating the adequate conditions for disabled people to visit the museum: all the areas of the museum can be reached by wheel chairs. The faccedil;ade was carefully recovered in order to reconstruct its primitive aspect. The choice of the colour, for instance, resulted from the comparison of several ancient photographs and the gathering of testimonies of people who had worked there (figure 2). As the museum is dedicated to industry, technical elements of the construction such as the air conditioning pipes were left visible, as frequently happens in industrial buildings (figure 3).

Other than the building, the project of the museum counted, from the beginning, with a vast array of material objects. The city Council had also acquired a substantial collection of the factory's machinery, which, with minor exceptions, enabled the reconstitution of the chain of production. Within the material remains initially bought by the city Council, there were substantial lots of written documents, though they lacked order and systematic organisation to be considered a collection.

The association between human memories, material objects and documents was an option from the beginning.  Even before the works in the building had started, a team was already doing interviews with former workers of the hat industry. After the opening of the museum, former workers were invited in, and some of the interviews occurred inside the old factory (new museum) facilities. This work proved to be hard and time-consuming but was also very rewarding.

The permanent exhibition is a narration of the industrial sequence that connects the several steps of the production chain, from the raw material to the final hat. At the end of the circuit, a room is dedicated to the social uses of the hats. The production of hats is a complex industrial process, and the permanent exhibition guides the visitor along its several steps. When machinery and tools are not sufficient to illustrate the processes, photographs and small videos are introduced as a complement. Pre-industrial techniques are also evoked, in ancient photographs (see figure 3) and interviews with former workers. The evolution from handmade hats to industrial hats is also explained. For certain steps of the production, it is possible for the visitor to watch a former worker of the hat industry performing specific tasks.

Each of the exhibition areas has a group label - as stated by Serrell (1996: 21) - which explains, in general, the step of the production chain being addressed. Each object has its own label. These labels were mainly done by using quotations of the interviews. Therefore, the discourse is centred on the people who used to work there, as if they were still present, explaining what their task was and how a machine was to be operated. 

With the opening to the public in June 2005, the first step of the transformation of the old factory into a new museum was completed. From June 2005 until January 2006 the Museum received circa 10.000 visitors. During 2006, numbers increased. Former workers of the industry also gather at the museum, for an old-friends chat or for a game of cards, or chess.

Amaral, Joseacute; Alberto Fontes Serra (1967), Subsiacute;dios para a Histoacute;ria da Induacute;stria da Chapelaria em S. Joatilde;o da Madeira, Porto.
Costa, Levi Moreira da (1997) Memoacute;rias de Tempos Idos. Subsiacute;dio para a Histoacute;ria de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira e sua Regiatilde;o, Cucujatilde;es, author's edition.
Costa, Luis (1987) O Coraccedil;atilde;o da Faacute;brica. Viagem ao mundo dos Unhas Negras, S. Joatilde;o da Madeira, Cacirc;mara Municipal de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira.
Lira, Seacute;rgio (2001) "O Museu da Induacute;stria de Chapelaria de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira" in Antropoloacute;gicas, nordm; 5, Porto, Universidade Fernando Pessoa.
Lira, Seacute;rgio (2002) "O Museu da Induacute;stria de Chapelaria de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira", in Actas do Coloacute;quio de Museologia Industrial. Reconversatilde;o e Musealizaccedil;atilde;o de espaccedil;os industriais, Porto, Museu da Induacute;stria, pp 79-88.
Lira, Seacute;rgio (2003) "Museu da Induacute;stria de Chapelaria de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira - Plano Museoloacute;gico" in Actas das  I Jornadas de Museologia de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira, S. Joatilde;o da Madeira, Cacirc;mara Municipal de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira.
Lira, Seacute;rgio e Menezes, Suzana (2001) "The Hat Industry Museum of S. Joatilde;o da Madeira (Portugal)" in Museological Review, Leicester, Department of Museum Studies, vol. 7, pp. 68 to 71.
Lira, Seacute;rgio, Fernandes, Suzana e Santos, Patriacute;cia Mota (2003) "Projectos: Museoloacute;gico, Arquitectoacute;nico, Ar Condicionado e Ventilaccedil;atilde;o", in Do Projecto agrave;s Colecccedil;otilde;es, S. Joatilde;o da Madeira, Cacirc;mara Municipal de S. Joatilde;o da Madeira.
Serrell, Beverly (1996) Exhibit Labels. An Interpretive Approach, London, Altamira Press.