HOOPER -- Making custom-designed felt hats is a dying art. But a Hooper man is keeping it alive in a workshop in his backyard.
Kevin Mark says he is one of only two master cowboy hatters in Utah and one of only about 40 left in the United States. He has made hundreds of hats, hand-crafted in the way of the West.
He considers himself a cowboy at heart with the Utah heritage to prove it.
"My great-great-great-grandfather, Capt. James Brown, was captain of the Mormon Battalion, who bought Fort Buenaventura from Miles Goodyear in 1847 in what was to become Ogden.
"I love this state, and I am proud of our pioneer heritage here in Utah," Mark said.
Mark grew up with a love of the old West.
"My brother brought home an old cowboy hat one day and ironed the sides down to make it look like the one that (Clint) Eastwood wore in some of his cowboy movies. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen," Mark said.
His love for making cowboy hats was sparked about 15 years ago while on vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
He happened to walk into the Jackson Hole Hat Company, where he spent the rest of the afternoon observing the world of hat making.
He was hooked.
"I had been contemplating finding some sort of home business that I could carry on into my retirement. Now I knew what it was. I just had to find a way to make it happen," Mark said.
Mark spent the next year on the phone, talking to custom hatters across the United States, hoping they had some hat equipment to sell.
He found some for sale, made some of his own, and a woodworking friend made hat blocks for him.
With the help of a few old masters, such as Jim Widdington of JW Hats in Salt Lake City, he taught himself the art of felt hat making, and that's how he became known as Mark Custom Hatter.
"Jim gave me pointers and, along with what I had learned in Jackson Hole and burning a lot of midnight oil honing my skills, I learned the art pretty well, I think," Mark said.
Mark said he specializes in hats for the working class cowboy and "anyone who wants a well-made hat. Sometimes people will bring in a picture of a hat and want one just like it, and I custom make it to fit them."
Christian Facer, a real cowboy from West Weber, said Mark has made four hats for him.
"Kevin makes top-notch quality hats ... they are comfortable, and you know you have as good a hat made even when comparing them to top brand names of hat makers," says Facer.
Mark makes all his hats to specifically fit an individual. It takes anywhere from three to five hours to design and make one hat. Some weeks, he might make two hats, and sometimes he may make 10 or 20 in a month.
Mark can make any shape, color or style of hat. He says his goal is to be sure that his customers are satisfied and proud to wear one of his hand-crafted hats.
His prices range from $165 to $435. He can be reached at 801-791-2768.