When I come across an artist who is not only insanely talented, but also all-in passionate and unequivocally unique, it stops me in my tracks. Time sort of stops, the white noise of chatter around me fades away and I go into tunnel vision. That’s what happened when I walked into Aspen Hatter in Austin and met Ras.
I should probably tell you how I got there in the first place. Trav and I are booked for a couples photo sesh in a couple of months. I thought it’d be cool for us to wear hats. I have one that I sort of like. It’s a mid-price wide-brim fedora. Aside from the adjustable band, it’s hardly custom, but it’ll do— err would have done. Trav on the other hand has a closet full of ball caps, but that’s about it. I’ve been an Austinite for a long time. Around here, word of the good stuff gets around. I hadn’t been yet, but I knew the just shop to take him to. Aspen Hatter here we come.
Walking through that door was like stepping out of a time machine. It felt like I walked into a shop on the set of Lonesome Dove. I was looking around for Gus and Lori when I noticed Ras— a gritty, bearded man in a western button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans, cowboy boots, jewelry likely handcrafted with sterling silver, leather and feathers and most importantly one of the best hats I’d ever seen. But his vibe had way more to do with the way he carried himself than what he was wearing. He said hello and was a little quiet at first, in a comforting way. He was posted up at a table working on a hat band. A few moments later, he casually strolled towards the counter and welcomed us into what felt much more like his home than his workshop. He told us to make ourselves at home— of course.
The shop is in a very old, small building in a culture-rich part of town just south of the river. When you first walk in, there is a large wooden mirror to the right with a coyote (who I have learned they call Larry) on the counter resting just below eye-level. There is smoke swirling from burning incense. The ceiling is covered in those little square metal antique plates. There are vibrant woven rugs all over the place. Lukas Nelson is coming through the speakers. There is a well-stocked cocktail cart. The refrigerator is covered in stickers and polaroids of clients. There are antler chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and taxidermy mounts on the walls (most of which have hats hanging on their ears). In the center of the wide-open room is a well-worn leather couch and several stools for what I can only imagine is shooting the shit and playing guitars when it’s quittin’ time. And there are hats— so many hats, feathers, bandanas, leather and tools everywhere.
Right about now, I was aware of the fact that when I left, another hat would never do.
After wandering around and asking all sorts of questions, Ras, Trav and I made our way back up to the front. At this point, my mind has crafted a rough vision for telling the story of this shop and this guy. I wanted to know more. I wanted the world to know more. I could only hope he’d say yes. Folks, it was my lucky day.
Later that week, I showed up at 10 in the morning camera in hand. And again, those nostalgic vibes rolled over me like a wave the second I walked in the door. I immediately started snapping pictures of things in the shop that I found interesting— things that were clearly there to inspire or serve a purpose. As soon as Ras began working on a hat, I dove right into the details.
While I was shooting, we swapped stories about life— all the things that led us to where we are today. He told me about growing up on the ranch, going to college, making friends with Chris, how the original Aspen Hatter came to be, the story of him becoming a hatter and all the fun experiences he’s had because of it. Most notably, crafting a hat for Pierce Brosnan and a couple for Matthew McConaughey, the MOC— that’s Minister of Culture for those of you who aren’t avid Texas fans.
They say time flies when you’re having fun— that’s true. Two and a half hours later, I knew I had all I needed to bring the story to life. I asked if I could get a shot of him on a stool looking into the camera. That one’s pretty special. I don’t think I would’ve captured the same photograph on the other side of the two and a half hours we spent together.
When I flip through these photographs, I see a man who’s working like no one’s watching, who pays complete attention to every single detail, who creates wildly unique pieces and who takes tremendous pride in his craftsmanship.
This was a passion project for me. Artists like Ras Redwine, VI are rare. They are to be treasured. They are bringing back an old way of doing things by hand, with love. When you commission an artist like this to create something for you, it’s not just about the hat— it’s about the story.
When you get a chance, stop by the shop and say hello.
1410 Barton Springs Rd.
Austin, TX 78704