Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat has nothing on the flamboyantly attired women of "Julie Moos: Hat Ladies," a small show of large color images that gets lots of mileage from limited material. The 18-piece exhibition, which has had its run at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach extended, is the work of Canadian-born photographer Moos, who specializes in series of linked photos and in portraits of people in pairs. "Hat Ladies" qualifies on both counts. Its subjects are black women from the congregation of the New Pilgrim Baptist Church in Ensley, a neighborhood in Birmingham, Alabama. And with two exceptions, they're shot in pairs (one woman preferred to go solo, and another did so after her partner didn't show). Three women appear twice. All are dressed in their Sunday best, which typically includes hats so dramatic that they resemble exotic birds -- the resemblance is especially striking if you've just seen "Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists Aviary," also at the Norton. Moos set up a makeshift studio in a church corridor and took the pictures over eight Sundays in fall 2000. The women sit side by side facing forward and are identified by last name only. The formal poses might suggest stiffness if the ladies didn't project such great dignity -- like people sitting for photo portraits in the medium's infancy, they seem to have an innate sense that they're about to step into history. In this case, most of them are of an age to have witnessed, even participated in, the struggles of the civil rights era. ("Julie Moos: Hat Ladies" is on display through July 25 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.) -- Michael Mills
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