College Preparatory School for Girls Grades 3-12

US Art Teacher Benjamin Ferry Celebrates Acclaimed D.C. Milliner in Solo Exhibition (Sept. 14-Oct. 12)

US art teacher Benjamin Ferry helps his students learn the craft of painting and drawing—and a major component of this is teaching them that art, and inspiration for it, is everywhere. We simply need to get out into the world and discover it.

Take Ferry's latest solo exhibition, for example. Hats Off, showing at D.C.'s gallery neptune & brown from Sept. 14-Oct. 12, explores and celebrates esteemed local milliner Vanilla Beane and her hat-making shop, Bené Millinery. The show is the culmination of two years of work for Ferry, and the direct result of wandering with his eyes wide open.

Several years ago, the artist and teacher had just relocated to a new neighborhood in the District, Brightwood/Manor Park, and he enjoyed taking it in during his daily dog walks. "There was one neighborhood shop that had kind of a magical energy to it," he recalls. It was Bené Millinery, with its windows and walls confettied with handmade creations of all shapes and hues, bejeweled and feathered, ribboned and ruffled.

Ferry finally worked up the courage to go inside and met the shop's then-97-year-old owner. "I'm D.C.'s living legend," she told him. She shared details of her personal and professional journey: how she moved to Washington from North Carolina in the '40s, taught herself to make hats while working as an elevator operator in the building that housed Washington Millinery & Supply Company and as a seamstress in the '50s, and opened her own hat shop in 1979 to serve the local community.

Over Bené's 40 years, Beane has made hats for generations of dignitaries and District denizens, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and civil rights activist Dorothy Height. Her work was featured in the 2013 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival and was acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ferry was captivated by her, her artistry, her story and history. "She's connected to three centuries of American history," he says. "Her story is a story of American history, of African American history, of D.C. history, of church history."

He wanted to make art that would celebrate and commemorate her; that could help share her story with an even wider audience. Two years later, on the eve of Beane's 100th birthday, Ferry is humbled to be debuting his collection of works featuring the acclaimed hat maker. He believes the show is some of his best work, "because I really believe in the subject."

He hopes that in the modern, Internet-driven era, his students are inspired by the show and its celebration of beauty made by hand.

"I hope that a show like this can bring many people together from different walks of life and they can speak to who Ms. Beane is and what she has represented from their own D.C. experience," Ferry says. "For me, a successful show is where the artwork can create an environment where people converse and find commonality amongst themselves, while appreciating differences and how experiences have shaped them."

Learn more about the exhibition, Hats Off, showing Sept. 14-Oct. 12 at D.C.'s gallery neptune & brown

Read the Washington Post Magazine's recent article on Ferry and Ms. Beane!