——The Hair Museum is looking for you
I made the appointment weeks ago, but now, standing in front of the mirrored door of an office building in a strip-mall parking lot, I’m about to give up. I knock to no response, then walk around back to look for another entrance. No one would ever guess this is a museum.
Another text follows saying she’s on her way.
A cream-colored 80s Cadillac Brougham pulls into the lot. A small woman with an impeccably-set blond helmet of hair gets out and greets me with a smile, then unlocks the mirrored door and beckons me in.
We walk through a large room dotted with barber’s chairs, hairdryers, carts and carts of beauty products, and more mirrors than I could count. At the back of the space is another door that the woman unlocks.
Inside is a small reception area hung floor to ceiling with antique shadowbox frames. In each frame are wreaths, decorations, landscapes, and designs I can’t define. All made of hair.
She traces the art of hairwork back to at least the 1500s but believes it goes back much earlier. Not only has she collected hair decorations and jewelry for over forty years, but she has also managed to learn many of the arthritis-inducing techniques necessary to complete these creations. Flowers, figures, and animals, all made of knots and stitches of multicolored tresses. She points out each skill she’s mastered as we make our way around the lobby. She says she knows thirty techniques while five others have thus far eluded her. She leaves no doubt by her tone that it’s only a matter of time until she knows them all. We continue into the back room. Every square inch of wall space is spoken for. In the middle of the room, glass cases hold rings, necklaces, brooches, and reliquaries, all decorated with human or animal hair.
Some were made to memorialize a loved one’s passing, others to celebrate impending nuptials, while still others’ intent is a complete mystery. She has traveled the world to find items for her museum. Her single-minded passion for the subject of hairwork is awe-inspiring.
She won’t give her collection to the Smithsonian——though they keep asking——because she wants to make sure that people can easily see her treasures. She doesn’t want them shut away in some climate-controlled safe forever. She’s also writing a book about the history of hairwork. In the meantime, she offers to teach me the thirty techniques she’s mastered. I thank her for the tour and say I’ll think about it.
I dodge hurtling traffic crossing the thoroughfare the hair museum sits by and go into Popeye’s for lunch. I look back across the road at the mirrored building. The Cadillac is gone. No signs of life, nor even a nameplate to break up the reflecting façade to clue in passing motorists about what’s inside.
—Got to see FACS at the Bottle.