They say about 1,300 people live in Mancos, but that seems unbelievably generous driving down the quaint ranching town’s Grand Avenue. It’s even more difficult to believe that enough bespoke boots walk into Nathaniel’s of Colorado for the celebrated hat shop to stay in business. Yet 49-year-old Nate Funmaker, arguably one of the world’s best master hatters (and one of the few full-blooded Native American master hatters), says he’s been happy to overcome the handicap of his company’s location to live and work in small-town Colorado. And clearly, he’s done a lot more than simply survive. Funmaker—who was born into Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk tribe but moved to Colorado for a job cutting timber and ended up apprenticing for the town’s previous hatmaker—handcrafts more than 350 hats each year. He ships nearly 90 percent of his wares, which cost between $400 and $800, to customers who happen to stop by the shop on their way to nearby Mesa Verde National Park. Using customized, 90-year-old machinery, Funmaker first presses, blocks, irons, steams, and stretches fine rabbit and beaver fur felt before he really goes to work. “After all that machine labor,” Funmaker says, “I get to hand-shape it and come up with something beautiful.” This is the artistic aspect of the hatmaking process, one that has earned Funmaker loyal customers—including Will Smith for his film Wild Wild West—the world over. “I’m good at seeing a face shape, a complexion, a chin, a body type,” Funmaker explains, “and then I use all those little things to make up a good hat—a hat that fits that one unique person.” —Lindsey B. Koehler
5280.com Exclusive: Watch a video of Nate Funmaker’s hat-making process below.