For almost 20 years, one of the country’s finest artisans has been handcrafting high-end, custom cowboy hats in his small shop in a tiny Colorado town.
Inside Nathaniel’s of Colorado, where Funmaker still uses old-school machinery to mold his hats.
A head form (right) is used to make new hats, while the stretcher can sometimes be used to reshape old hats.
Funmaker cuts the fur blank he buys from a furrier in Tennessee.
Much of the decorative trim Funmaker uses is handmade by his wife, Kerrie.
The blue circa-1895 conformator and the smaller vermillion work in concert to give Funmaker readings on a person’s head shape and size.
Funmaker adjusts the crown iron, which cures the crown of the hat for a specific head height.
One of the first steps in the process is using the blocking machine to determine shape.
Using a 90-year-old bobbinless sewing machine, Funmaker places a sheepskin sweatband.
Funmaker prepares to shape a hat; his most popular styles are the Explorer and the Rodeo, but he says his favorite design to make is the Classic Gus.
Funmaker rides in the Mancos high country alongside his mentor Perry Lewis (right) and Lewis’ wife, Lynne (the couple owns Rimrock Outfitters).
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.