We had a chance to catch up with Waltraud during the Hats Off To Outback Women Tour 2016â€¦each year she hits the road in her Hatmobile Audrey, and brings the art of hat-making to remote communities across our region while raising awareness of mental health. We wanted to know how she sees art therapy, how arts have helped her and what inspires her to continue her work.
Hello, what is your name?
Your mobile â€˜Hatmobileâ€™ has been driving round the country delivering hat workshops while promoting a healthy creative mind, since 2012â€¦tell us about that!
I always found solace and support for myself in doing creative things. Like gardening, painting, making things and my main love of course making hats. Hats for me have many metaphors and I can relate all of it to life situations and daily happenings. We all wear many invisible hats and we change them all the time. Many years ago I myself identified so much with some of those hats that I thought I was ‘that’ hat and felt stuck, overwhelmed and felt there was no other way to live life. Then I learned through art therapy and talking therapy that there were many more hats I could choose to wear and that there is an ongoing putting on and taking off; saying yes to life and no to situations. I learned I was in charge of my life and what it looked like. I could decorate each ‘ hat’ the way it suited me and I made sure those hats started to fit me properly and some I threw out altogether. (metaphor hats that is)
So this also changed my teaching. We talk in the workshops about feelings and how materials can be related to our life and the people in it. We explore and go on a journey with the material and end up with beauty on our heads which is soooo much more than a hat.
I was able to come through an eating disorder, learned to love my body, found a way to accept a wheelchair in my life and grieved many other losses which I did not even realise I had lost. Hat making and teaching is a gift I was givenÂ Â and I take it around the country in the Hatmobile as I have a knowing it is not my gift to keep and that I was given it to share.
What do you wish you knew about being a business owner before you got started?
To find a mentor and ask many questions, listen and have an open mind to what worked and what could be improved. Find people who are doing it or have done it before me.
Also I would have liked to have sat down with someone who helped me think about questions, not talk me into anything but raise questions without any agenda. Today I would go and see a therapist for this kind of need. A therapist is like a super, super good friend who meets you in the moment without judging you or telling you what you should do.
What else have you been up to?
Well I sold Torb and Reiner millinery supply in Melbourne which made me very proud. I built a great business from nothing and it grew very quickly into an internationally recognised company in the Hat world.
How would you describe your style?
These days I think of myself asÂ Â more and more authentic. By that I mean I try to ‘be’ and own my style as who I am. Sometimes with earrings and lipstick and sometimes without shoes. Sometimes tired and sad and sometimes colourfulÂ and all that goes with it. My style these days is being honest and open to my needs and to listen within so I can be fully with the person as I meet them with an open heart and without judgment. I am always reminded how similar I am to all people I meet. I might wear different coloured shoes but on the inside I long for being loved, have a need for belonging and want intimate connection just as everyone else I think.
Why do you think itâ€™s important to provide creative outlets and opportunities for people, especially in regional areas?
I grew up in a very small country community in Austria and I felt from a very young age the need and the importance to express through creativity. I watched my mother go into the garden and out onto the field when she was angry or sad and this was a way of creative outlet for her. My grandfather would sit in the cellar and weave baskets when he was grumpy or had nothing to do in the long winter months when snow covered everything. He without realising was filling his soul. Today we are often so far removed as we all get on the Internet and we lose touch with oneself as we run after the ‘ other’.
Country folk in Australia are often socially isolated, and lack opportunities to find time just to be with themselves in making beautiful things. When we create, create anything, we give ourselves a chance to connect to something within which often bypasses words and lets us see through colour and shapes.
What have you got coming up?
At the moment I am travelling for Outback Arts delivering the Catholic Healthcare and Drought Assistance Program funding and will be seen on the road between Louth, Cobar andÂ Enngonia. I have already visited Mendooran, Baradine, Rowena, Walgett, Lightning Ridge and Coonamble.
Then I am heading back to Melbourne to teach some workshops in a few high schools – after that I am off to Europe teaching in July.
The most exciting project is still ahead which is the Hats for Happiness project. This project uses little hats to express feelings. We sell those hats every year in an auction and also publish a book. The project is in its third year. This yearâ€™s theme is chaos. Jamie Lea from Outback Arts has participated in this project in the past. You can buy the book on www.hatsforhappiness.com.au and join our Facebook groupÂ hatsforhappinessaustralia group.
What other artistic developments would you like to see occur in our region?
I would think that music, dance and costume would be a great way of connecting to others and self. Also working on canvas. Not painting, this often scares people as many had a bad art teacher at school who said “you can’t paint” or â€œyou are not good at thatâ€. They would eat their hat if they could see some of those kids today as growns ups.
I run a workshop called ‘ yesterday is gone, tomorrow ain’t here yet, all I got is today’
It’s an art therapy workshop which is a lot of fun.
What would you be doing if you weren’t the hat lady?
Oh who knows. I wanted to be a psychologist when I was 20 and if I was meant to be that I would be doing it. I think it is hats which lets me get as close to the brain as I will ever get.
I do other things as it is. I garden, I paint abstract, Iâ€™m studying to be aÂ Gestalt therapistÂ which includes the whole being, all of ourselves and aims for integrating our own wisdom. We are not broken and there is nothing wrong with us. Sometimes we just need help and guidance to access the wisdom which we all have. Each human knows what’s right for them and what to do next. Often we cannot get to that wisdom and this is what a therapist can help with.
Where can we see more of your stuff?
Check out www.hatmobile.com.au
There are also heaps of videos I have made and put on youtube from many of my past workshops, including this yearâ€™s tour. Search for Hatmobile or Waltraud Reiner or Torb and Reiner.
Lastly, Beatles or the Stones?
I have to say Beatles I think. They were rebels in their times and it’s laughable when we look at it now. They remind me how when we look back nothing is as bad as we think it is in the moment. All things change, nothing is constant. You never can step into the same river twice as it always flows and so it is with each moment. It’s gone. So are those words, so am I, I will be different next time we meet.
Have a hatty day and may youÂ look ever so often what’s under your hat and tell someone. It’s nice to share the ugly, bad and sweet side of life.