This story appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Affinity Magazine. Click here to check out the complete magazine.
By Kelsey Lyman
Few people can tell the difference between a hat and a cap. For the record, a hat can have many shapes, always has a brim and isn’t always close to the head, while a cap fits closely to the head and has a visor.
Dr. Beverly Chico is in the minority of those who could tell you the difference. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Hats and Headwear Around the World: A CulturalEncyclopedia is a culmination of Chico’s research, travels and education on hats and history. It is also the first encyclopedia of headwear written in English.
While that may sound like a daunting task, it’s just what she does in her free time. Her primary occupation is as a professor of history at Columbia College- Denver, where she makes the past come alive for students and faculty alike.
Chico moved to Denver from Baltimore, Maryland with her husband in 1975. She had previously been a tenured professor at Community College of Baltimore and decided to continue her career in education.
“I never thought I wanted to be a teacher when I was growing up, but once I got into it, somehow or other, I loved it,” she says.
After doing some museum work in Denver, she came to Columbia College in the fall of 1991 and has been an adjunct faculty member ever since. In 2000, former college president Dr. Gerald Brouder attended the Denver location’s graduation ceremonies, where he met Chico. The two spoke about Columbia College’s special place in history by offering higher education access to women since 1851. As a result of that conversation, she was invited to teach as the inaugural visiting scholar at the Columbia College main campus.
“They were lovely to me. It was a wonderful experience, and I enjoyed it tremendously,” Chico says. Inside the classroom, Chico uses her immense museum and historical education background to bring history to life for students. She has a collection of more than 600 hats and artifacts and doesn’t hesitate to bring them to class to share them with her students.
“I’m what you might call a ‘show and tell’ person; that’s the way I teach. Art is visual. That’s why I hope I bring it to life through very common experiences,” she says. “First and foremost, I am an educator. So, my first attitude is to let them touch it. Not every student will appreciate the unusual experience of this, but a lot of students do.”
Her enormous assortment of artifacts wasn’t collected overnight but over a lifetime of adventures. In her 20s, Chico moved to Europe for four years to work and travel, during which time she lived in Germany and Spain. On weekends and holidays, she would visit other countries.
While living in Spain, Chico began to frequent an antique flea market, where she got to know many of the vendors and started to purchase antiques: the beginnings of her hat and headwear collection. At the time, she worked on an American military base and, because she was on the base’s salary, the exchange rate played in her favor. This enabled her to kick-start her headwear collection and pick up many rare pieces.
“She has an amazing collection of artifacts,” says Dr. Nefeli Schneider, director of the Denver location and Chico’s longtime friend. “She had the foresight in her youth to travel through the world, back in the day when perhaps things weren’t popular or artifacts were for sale for cheap in a country, and she would pick it up. Even though they’re museum pieces, she says, ‘What’s the use of putting it away? This needs to be shared.’ ”
Upon returning to the United States, Chico pursued higher education and received her doctorate in history and sociology from the University of Northern Colorado in 1979. She also has a master’s degree in art history from Johns Hopkins University.
Tales of Chico’s life and adventures could fill many books. Her travels around the world and tremendous accumulated knowledge about art and history are just small pieces of what makes her such an asset to Columbia College. Her colleagues have certainly noticed, too. Schneider attributes Chico’s success in the classroom to her love of history and knack for learning.
“She has such depth of knowledge, plus she ties history, anthropology, art, ideas throughout the ages and just weaves them together so well,” Schneider says. “She just brings it to life.”