It’s January again and I’m creating new work for the ACC Baltimore show. Every year my thoughts return to the first time I met Hoff in my booth in Baltimore. He strolled in on his magical shoes wearing a cape, a button-down vest, fingerless gloves, and, of course, a hat. But not just any hat, it could be anything from an East African kofia to a top hat with some added texture or sparkle to make it personal. What can I expect from this man? Where will this go?

And the conversation begins…

Ojai before Thomas

With much laughter, cajoling, and playfulness, he commissioned me to create a harmonica holder to wear around his neck out of my wonderous, authentic metal lace. Oh, and by the way, my laughs were just as loud as his if not louder. Entertainment, I’m convinced, is one of his sideline gigs. Incidentally, he does play the harmonica on occasion with various bands in a multitude of locations. As he stated, “when the situation warrants and when least expected”.

Hoff and Elaine

Hoff and Elaine mugging for the camera

This was not an ordinary commission. The guidelines and specifications for his request were outlined. These days he comes with a printed sheet of the dos and don’ts. And, he’ll generally hand you a harmonica to take with you for proper fitting. Which ended up being important in my case as the metal lace conforms around the harmonica and any other object; it had to be altered to accommodate the imperfect rectangle of a harmonica. I  contacted him more than once with a design issue.

After the completion of this commission, I wondered if I’d have the opportunity to design anything new for him. I’d see and talk to him at each show and we always had stories to share. So, I suggested a 3” wide scarf – he said it needs to hold a harmonica. Ah! A pocket was born…a harmonica pocket. And, of course, this scarf had to have two pockets, one on each side. Everyone needs their harmonica to be ready on the draw as a cowboy with his gun.

And then, the magic happened, Hoff must have felt the strangely empowering qualities of authentic metal lace as we began a journey together to create a vest made specifically for him. Again, pockets were important, one on each side – one for a harmonica and one for a harmonica holder made by another artist. Also, it was going to be a button-down vest. Buttons??!! How is that going to work? With a little extra effort and discussion, I completed the task with black buttons. And, it looked smashing on him!