Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The History and the Hair Story: 400 Years Without a Comb at California Center for the Art, Escondido

The History and the Hair Story: 400 Years Without a Comb. The show runs Jan 16 to March 6 at California Center for the Arts  (340 N. Escondido Blvd, Escondido 92025) More info: Julie Riggert 760.839.4125Hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission: $8

The black hair story: ‘400 Years Without a Comb’ Report by Pam Kragen
First published in the Union Tribune, Jan 15, 2016

The Escondido exhibit celebrates the history of ‘afro’ culture and famed local barber.

— Be it straight or curly, braided or shaved, woven or wigged, the hair of black Americans has been a flashpoint for their cultural pride and their critics’ ignorance and scorn. 

The centuries-in-the-making follicle tale will be unveiled today with the opening of “The History and the Hair Story: 400 Years Without a Comb.” The two-part exhibit at the Museum at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, features more than 250 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, historic artifacts, styling implements and documents that trace America’s black hair culture to its roots in Africa four centuries ago.

Exhibit curator Starla Lewis, who chairs the Black Studies department at San Diego Mesa College, said she hopes visitors will walk away with a deeper understanding of how important hair has been to black culture and public perception.

“When you get right down to it, there are only three kinds of hair in this world: straight, wavy and curly. All the language of hair beyond those three things reflects our cultural values about hair,” she said.

One part of the exhibit is a 50-piece art show highlighting black hair from many different eras and of every conceivable style. The other, much-larger part is an exhibit dedicated to the history of black hair care and style in America. It includes a wall display of hair picks, cases filled with early 20th century hair pomades and creams, and a display of hair irons, pressing combs, tongs, dryers and other devices from the 1800s to mid-1900s. 

Much of the latter exhibit was drawn from the private collection of self-made multimillionaire Willie Morrow, the South Bay barber/chemist/businessman who created both the Afro pick and the Jheri Curl. Many of his combs, brushes, chemical-free relaxers and other products reshaped the way black Americans have styled and felt about their hair since the 1960s, Lewis said.

Now 76 and still maintaining a full workweek at his Lemon Grove offices, Morrow said that haircare trends have come and gone, but he hopes the exhibit reminds visitors of his contributions to the industry.

“If nothing else, I hope it establishes me as an authority on the subject,” said Morrow, who wears his graying hair in a shoulder-length ponytail. “Some people call themselves experts today, but they’re just novices. I learned the chemistry, I did the engineering and developing, I did the tool-making and I did the style-designing.”

Museum director Leah Goodwin has been planning the exhibition for the past 18 months, with the goal of mining Lewis’ deep roots in San Diego’s black artist community and showcasing pieces from Morrow’s vast historical collection (just 30 percent of his items made it into the Escondido show).

“I wanted to tell a story that doesn’t get told very often and I wanted to celebrate a living legend while he’s still with us,” Goodwin said.

....continuing reading and see photos at this link.

Additional events associated with the exhibit include:
A lecture and book signing by Morrow at 2 p.m. Jan 15
“Hairalogues,” a theatrical presentation by Cal State San Marcos students at 2 p.m. Feb. 20; “Power: The Politics of Hair,” a lecture by JoAnne Cornwell, creator of the hair-looping technique Sisterlocks, at 4 p.m. Feb. 20; 

“Hairitage: I Love Me Naturally,” a lecture by Lewis on loving your natural hair, at 2 p.m. March 5. Extra fees may apply for special events. 760-529-4906 Twitter: @pamkragen

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