The Hat Maker
Nate Funmaker is a craftsman, not a cowboy
MANCOS — The sound of cowboy boots walking across the hardwood floor echo in the old building.
The row of cowboy hats hung on the wall add to the rustic western feel.
A pair of guard kittys at Nathaniel's of Colorado volunteer to be pampered. Siblings Whiskey and Sahara can be seen lounging in the large front display windows at all hours of the day and night.
In the back of Nathaniel's, Nate Funmaker waits for the customer. You'd probably expect the veteran hat maker to be wearing a cowboy hat of his own making.
Instead, the 47-year-old Mancos man offers a slight smile. “I'm a ball cap guy,” he says.
The statement sums up who he is more than one might think.
Of course, Funmaker has several cowboy hats that he wears. He looks good in a western hat. He's comfortable and at ease under his favorite gray rabbit-beaver fur blend hat.
His philosophy is pretty darn simple.
“I'm not a cowboy, I'm a craftsman,” he says.
Nate Funmaker is a Native American who has been making hats for 18 years.
“Yeah, that's a little different,” he says about being a Native American western hat maker. “But it's what I know.”
The customer is Tim Guill, a 58-year-old Durango attorney. He's a Texas guy and it's his boots that echo on the hardwood floor. Texas guys know a thing or two about cowboy hats and boots.
“I looked around a lot,” he says about his quest to find a hat maker. “He has a great reputation and that's what brought me here.”
His wife Genevieve Guill and her daughter, 19-year-old Kateri Toledo are picking up new hats made by Funmaker.
Thanks to this cost-effectiveness and high-production era, the sun is setting on the individual hat maker.
“The two crafts that we seem to be running out of are good boot makers and good hat makers. I'm a fan of both,” Tim Guill says with a smile.
Funmaker may not be a cowboy but the self-confessed ball cap guy, makes a mighty fine cowboy hat.
“I've been doing this for 18 years,” he says. “It's a passion.”
He estimates that a hat maker takes more than three years to get a good handle on the craft.
He watches as Genevieve carefully examines her new hat in the mirror. Pulling it down, thoroughly studying it from side to side.
Funmaker watches, then immediately notices that the hat appears to be a little snug.
“I think we should take it out a little,” he says.
Retreating to the back room, steam hisses as Funmaker works on the hat.
The back room has more than 50 rounded wooden blocks of every shape and size. The wooden blocks are used to mold the crown part.
It's about an eight-hour process to make a hat but Funmaker usually works on multiple hats at the same time, each one in a different stage of the process.
“It's pretty labor intensive, but I'm used to it,” he says.
As a master hat maker, Funmaker knows his profession is eroding but he's not planning on hanging up the craft anytime soon.
“I've always said that if I lose my passion for it, I'll go and do something else. But I don't really know what else I would do. This is what I know,” he says with a grin.
Hats are to be worn
Funmaker learned from the previous owner, then bought out the business 12 years ago.
He's a hat maker, a craftsman who sells his expertise.
Getting a sale is important, but he wants the customer to wear his hat after the purchase. The last thing Funmaker wants is for the hat to sit on the closet's top shelf instead atop someone's head.
“A good hat doesn't mean I made the hat,” he says. “Good means that it's balanced for the person.
“I want them to feel comfortable with the purchase. I'm never going to force someone into buying a hat, because they need to be comfortable with the hat. Otherwise they aren't going to wear it.”
Kateri's black hat is also a little snug.
Funmaker first measures Kateri's head. Then his fingers go to work manipulating small levers on a 117-year-old contraption. The 1895 device still gets the most accurate hat size for a person, Nate says.
Back in 1895, a perfect fitting cowboy hat was pretty essential.
The hat size is modified. Now for the shape. Back to the steam machine.
Kateri takes the newly formed hat and looks at herself in the mirror. After close examination, she smiles.
“I like it,” she says.
Another pair of satisfied customers.
“I love the shape of my hat,” Genevieve says of her gray hat. “It feels good, it's very comfortable. He does a really good job.”
Funmaker is pleased and encouraged that these hats won't end up stuffed in a closet or will be left to wilt and whither in the backseat of a car.
PRIDE IN HIS WORK
Nate takes pride in knowing who he is. Not a cowboy but a heck of a cowboy hat maker.
“I think people appreciate who I am,” he says. “What people want is to make sure that you know what you're doing.”
His small-town attitude and comforting tone resonates with customers. The word sincerity comes to mind.
“To me, what makes me a good hatter is I'm going to make it fit the person. If I do that, then I've made a good hat,” he says.
Funmaker's hats go all over the country — New York, Chicago, California, Oklahoma and Colorado mountain towns like Telluride. He says “it's cool” to sell his hats to celebrities but it's the locals and the working folks that leave an impression.
“What I enjoy more is the person who buys a hat and appreciates a good hat and will wear it. Taking care of a hat doesn't mean not wearing it,” he says.
Funmaker doesn't make fancy hats. No rhinestones, beads or other decorations. A hat-band can be added but nothing designed into the hat.
“I make traditional hats. That's what I like,” he says.
His hats are made of rabbit or beaver fur or a blend of the two. The fur comes from Tennessee via Canada. These are high-end hats costing as much as $800. These are quality hats.
“A lot of my customers will never know what these hats can go through. The hat is made to last and be a working hat,” he says.
That's why he takes pride in making hats for the working crowd. As he puts it — the people who “live in their hat, a hat that's not for fun, it's for function.”
Nate was born in Wisconsin and is a member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, also known as the Winnebagos. He traveled around the Mancos area when he was doing forestry work years ago, and decided the small town would be a good place to hang his hat.
As a Native American, Nate enjoys the Native American culture of the area.
“I'm obviously not the same tribe, but I like being amongst natives, I enjoy being surrounded by culture. I dig it,” he says
Nate loves that his craft allows a customer to meet the person who makes the product.
“Think about it. Do we know who made our jeans or boots or shirt. No, but people who buy my hats will know who made their hat,” he says. “They get to meet the maker.”
Now wearing his gray cowboy hat, Funmaker wipes sweat from his brow brought on by the steamer.
He names off a number of local cowboys, horse people and other locals who come to him for their hats.
These are the working people that wear hats for function. Protection from the sun or the rain or other elements as they take to the pasture, the corral, the sale barn or the arena.
“I like the idea (of being a cowboy), I really dig that,” he says. “But that's not who I am. That's not the way I was raised — why pretend to be something I'm not?”
Nate Funmaker is a craftsman not a cowboy.
Nate Funmaker is a hat maker.