Mad Hatter: Jordan Cruz

written by Elise Olmstead


Appalachian Jamwich has traveled down some breathtaking rabbit holes this summer and met countless Mad Hatters creating in different mediums and styles, all striving to be the best at their craft.  JCS Designs pioneers embroidery on his hats, Lot Creep Labs pleases our eyes with his candy colored sacred geometry paintings, and our next Mad Hatter, CruzCreations, introduces another style of handmade hats to our palette.  He incorporates leather, holographic shapes and chain maille into his hats for a natural meets industrial infusion.  The result is fiercely stylish with utilitarian sensibilities, and their lush materials make them the Dolce and Gabbana of the heady hat world.


Jordan Cruz grew up in Milkwaukee, MI as the only artist in his family.  Growing up in a large city, he now has a deep appreciation for the country and currently lives Hayfork, CA.  He made the move in the past year, syncing with his decision to make his art a full-time career.  He manages a shop called Head Change Arts, where he creates most of his art during the day.  Although he left the security of a well-paying job, he is confident in his decision to pursue his dreams.  “I can’t really see myself ever working a 9 to 5 that is not art related ever again.”  It is no wonder that a major inspiration of his is artists overcoming adversity, never giving up on their passion. He also draws much inspiration from artists around him, valuing everyone’s perspective.  “Hats made by Elisa Rose Mountain, and hats made by JCS Designs are also very inspiring.” While working in his studio, Cruz likes to vibe with different styles of music depending on what aspect he is working on, preferring electronic during metal work, and a more jam sound for leather and paint.  The Band, The Highwaymen, and The Grateful Dead are some favorites, “and lately I’ve been jamming to Cee-Lo Green.”


Mountain Stomp Festival in 2011 is where Cruz first got the idea to create hats.  “The hats I saw were awesome and the people who made them treated me amazing.”  The combination of impressive craft and good people inspired him to buy his first blank hats there and attempt his own creations.  This year he took his craft to the lot and got serious about vending, selling his hats at Human Nature, Head to Head, Trinity County Tribal Stomp, Lazy Summer Daze, and some Furthur shows.  He loves vending and plans on doing even more in the future.  The biggest challenge he has encountered is convincing customers to pay a fair price, but as more custom hats and clothes appear on the scene, handmade consumers are starting to understand the value of the product and the time and cost the artist puts into their craft.


Cruz combines a stunning array of materials to create a cohesively beautiful piece.  His favorite hat to date is one he made a few months ago with a chain mail center piece and a leather bill with cut-outs.  “It is my favorite because it was the first time I combined hand painting with leather and chain work.” Another aspect of Cruz’s hats that immediately draws your eye is the holograms, printed by Laser Guided Visions and designed by Brian Paul Smith.  The ever-changing, multi-dimensional designs draw  you in and beg a second look, yet also blend seamlessly into the overall look of the hat.  Cruz is always trying to find a way to improve his craft and his materials, and has many projects to look forward to in the future. “In the very near future [I’ll be] screen printing, as well as metal work. I am planning on fabricating some vests with chain maille mandalas as well as some leather patchwork hoods with chain maille details.”


If he were to give advice to aspiring Mad Hatters, he would suggest to “be original, work hard, and experiment!” A very deliberate artist, he puts his creative process in the simplest of terms: “Visualize and Execute.”  We can all be inspired by Jordan to dedicate ourselves to our passion no matter what it is.

You can see his hats on Facebook under CruzCreations or contact him directly at


Full Interview:

1.      Where are you from? How do you think where you grew up affected how you turned out as an adult?

I am from Milwaukee, WI.  Living in a large city as a child has made me appreciate the freedoms of living in the country.  I very much enjoy growing my own food and learning new ways to be self dependent. There is nothing better.

2.      Where do you live now?

Hayfork, CA


3.      Tell us about your family?

I have two brothers and a sister, and I am the only artist in the family.

Are you all different or alike?

We all have a considerable gap in age so I would say we are all different.


4.     What music gets you going creatively?

Digital music helps me weave chain as both are rhythmic and sometimes repetitive. As far as electronic music goes I am currently into Emancipator,  The Polish Ambassador, and Opiuo. When working leather or painting I prefer the sounds of The Band, The Highwaymen,  and of course the Grateful Dead, as well as many others. Lately I have been also jamming to Cee-Lo Green…


5.      Do you vend at festivals/shows?

Yes, this year was really the first year I have tried to do it seriously. I was at Human Nature, Head to Head, Trinity County Tribal Stomp, Lazy Summer Daze, and of course some rogue vending at some of last years Furthur Shows.

Tell us about your vending experience, your likes/dislikes?

Love it every single time


6.      What makes you smile?

New ideas, random acts of kindness


7.      What grinds your gears?

Unoriginal art, lack of initative,  self- defeating attitudes


8.      Describe yourself in three words:

motivated,  capable,  sensitive


9.      Were you always artistic or did something bring on the desire to create?

I always was.


10.  How did you get the idea to start decorating hats?

Mountain Stomp Festival 2011, the hats I saw were awesome and the people who made them treated me amazing. I bought my first blank hats there a little over a year ago.


11.  Why do you think art/creativity is necessary to society?

It increase our ability to communicate, and our ability to view the world from different perspectives.


12.  What is your favorite hat you’ve done to date and why is it your favorite?

A few months ago I fabricated a hand painted hat with a chain maille center piece and leather bill with cut outs. It is my favorite because it was the first time I combined hand painting with leather and chain work.


13.  Who/what is your inspiration, where do you find inspiration?

My artist friends inspire me, and I also draw inspiration from the wonders of nature.  Tales of artists overcoming adversity  are always good as well. The art of Keith Haring inspires me because it radiates love and compassion. Hats made by Elisa Rose Mountain, and hats made by JCS Designs are also very inspiring.  I took Drafting for a few years in high school so the work of M. C. Escher is very motivating to me as well.


14.  Who do you look up to within the art or craft world?

Jeffrey Lindsay (ceo and artistic director of Light Sound Dimension), he has been of great assistance helping me get accustomed to selling my work via the internet and suggesting venues for me to vend at.


15.  Tell me about your creative process.

Vizualize and execute


16.  What are you working on currently, what are your plans for the future?

I am currently working on  custom flatbrim baseball style hats ,  and in the very near future screen printing,  as well as metal work. I am planning on fabricating some vests with chain maille mandalas as well as some leather  patchwork hoods with chain maille details.


17.  What are some challenges in your craft that you have experienced?

In the beginning people thought my prices were high, but I chalked that up to being new on the scene, and the lack of similar art to compare my work to. For the most part I was right  it seems that the more people became familiar with my work and the time involved the pricing made more sense to the them.  Acquiring rings was a pain early on because I had to order them from out of the country, which added to the cost and was slow, but now my good friend Ryan has acquired the mandrels and other tools to create the rings ourselves.


18.   What do you do for fun besides create?

Skateboard, collect gems, eat sushi, music festivals, and I love to travel….


19.  Is art your only career or do you also have another career?

It is currently my only career, and always will be. I can’t really see myself ever working a 9 to 5 that is not art related ever again.


20.  What is your studio or workspace like, and how do you work in your studio?

I manage a shop called  Head Change Arts in the daytime, and that is where I create most of my art. It is a typical work space with desks and tables as well as a glass studio.  I have a considerable amount of art supplies as  I work in multiple mediums. Trying to keep organized is always a challenge.


21.  What is the most defining moment in your life this past year?

Moving to Hayfork  from southern Oregon and deciding  to focus on art full time is definitely the biggest decision I have made in the past year. I gave up a well paying  job to follow my dreams and make art.  It was absolutely the right decision.


22.  What is your view on life, i.e. the meaning you see behind it?

Every human interaction either brings us closer or farther from collective consciousness. Empathy and compassion are the best tools to get us there. I believe religious hierarchy is useless, and that organized religion and its dogmatic laws are designed to keep us apart from one another.


23.  If you could teach or tell the new generation of artists, what would it be?

Be original, work hard, and experiment!


24.  Where can we buy/order your creations?


Directly from me via two facebook pages- “Joe Dan Cruz” or “CruzCreationz” or I can be reached via email at – my website is currently in the works…


Or you can stop by and see me in person between 10am and 6pm at:


Head Change Arts

7251 Hwy #3

Hayfork, CA 96041


I would also like to thank all those who have purchased my art, as well as offered kind words off appreciation! Support Hand Made!