Humble Babble from a Bearded Man

 by Eric Todd, Program Facilitation Specialist

Four months ago, I began to grow my beard. To those who know me, this may not seem noteworthy, as I’ve had a beard off and on for several years. However, unlike previous beards, this one was not born in response to the cooling weather or the result if laziness or forgetting to charge my electric razor. No, this beard has a purpose. “What purpose?” you ask. Well, that story stretches back longer than my beard.

Last June, I began to work on the development of a new program for the museum, one dedicated to all things hair — the culture of hair, the science behind hair, the people who work with hair and even the weird, wild and unusual uses for hair (see hair wreaths or this blog post) would be included. We knew this would extend to facial hair, so someone — I wish I could remember who — said, “Hey, you should grow your beard out for the event.” This seemed like a good, or at least harmless, idea to me. The ultimate reason for growing the beard was not known at the time, but we were confident inspiration would strike.

Anyway, in early September, I happily retired my razor as planned. With shaving removed from my to-do list, my mind was free to concentrate on developing Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs for the museum. My first task was to educate myself by exploring the world of hair.

Once immersed in this exploration, I was excited by what I found. I learned about the natural hair movement, the importance of understanding your hair texture and the connections between hair health and overall well-being. More importantly, I was able to speak with the experts who work in these areas. I was amazed by their passion and I was eager to invite them to the museum to share their knowledge with our visitors.

Through planning for this program, I met a hair historian who possesses a unique “hair-reading” skill. I can’t wait to see what my hair says about me! I have also heard a story or two from a Hoosier member of Beard Team USA, and I look forward to hearing more stories from his experiences competing in the World Beard and Moustache Championships in England and Alaska.

Personally, I’m hoping the event will introduce me to a new style, treatment or product that would work for me. You see, I have basically had the same haircut my entire life. Truth be told, I’ve long said that I want a bowl cut, but friends tell me this is no longer a fashionable look. And my pop culture comparison to wanting a haircut like Jonathan Taylor Thomas is apparently passé as well. Before embarrassing myself further, I should get to my point.

As 2010 wound down and my mind was occupied by things such as making your own moustache, the load bearing capacity of human hair and debating which celebrities have the most recognizable do’s (come to the event, you’ll see it all), I had largely forgotten that the hair on my face was growing for a reason. You can’t blame me for forgetting; I have not trimmed, clipped or, frankly, done much grooming to my facial hair in months.

However, the time has come for my beard to realize its purpose. Because the visitor is my top priority — or maybe because I was out of ideas — it was decided that I would let the public choose the fate of my facial hair. Below you will see a poll allowing you to vote on a beard style for me to wear to Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs. Whether the decision to put my beard in the hands of others is inspiration or idiocy, of this I am unsure. Perhaps I’ll withhold judgment until I see the outcome of the vote. Or until I see the look on your face when I debut my new look on Jan. 29.

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Brushing up on Victorian hair art

by Meredith McGovern, Collections Assistant

Remember the good ol’ days when your family would retreat to the parlor and relax by the fire —Dad reading the paper, you playing with your favorite doll, and Mom washing and bundling hair, brushing it out, and weaving it into a bracelet for you to wear? What … no? Sorry, I must be thinking of a Victorian family.

Hair bracelet, 1865 – 1880. Owned by Susan Spencer Merrill (1828-1911)

In the mid-19th century, many women put down their knitting needles or crochet hook and took up a new form of leisure — hair art. I know it sounds strange and probably gives some of us the heebie-jeebies, but the artist would collect hair from their family and friends and would braid or weave the strands into framed wreaths or jewelry, including blonde brooches, brunette bracelets and raven rings. The finished products, like the bracelet pictured below, served as sentimental, everyday reminders of loved ones, living or dead.

To prepare for an upcoming hair program at the Indiana State Museum (more on that later!), Gaby Kienitz, the Indiana State Museum’s textile conservator and craft extraordinaire, agreed to help me create a few bracelets by following patterns originally printed in a popular Victorian magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book. We just needed to gather a few supplies: HAIR (!), a frame or hatbox to work the hair on, and weights to balance the strands. While Gaby built us a small table, I tasked myself with finding the hair. Victorian women spent a lot of time collecting, degreasing, detangling and bundling it. I took the easy route and opted not to snip my coworkers’ locks, although they eyeballed me suspiciously. I turned instead to a modern convenience — my local craft store. The doll wigs looked a bit unruly, so I settled on a skein of chestnut-colored yarn.

Meredith and Gaby channeling their Victorian ancestors.

Supplies in hand, Gaby and I donned our corsets and hoops skirts (not really, but our Victorian counterparts did — sorry, ladies, we feel your pain!) and sectioned off “hair” on the table, crossing it from bottom to top around a tube, clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the pattern. At first it was difficult. We tried using embroidery floss that proved too fine and a jute twine that was too stiff. The yarn was easiest to weave and held the form of the bracelet best. We found out that the Victorian magazine wasn’t kidding when it instructed its readers to weight the hair. Without weights, our product looked uneven, lopsided and sad. However, before long we got into a groove and started chatting about the same things I’m sure the Victorian artists did — cats, dental work, New Year’s plans and varicose veins. Soon we had several bracelets and chains. Our finished products might not make us misty-eyed over a friend or relative, but they do make a nice lanyard or chain for our museum employee IDs.

The finished products.

Come to the Indiana State Museum for Curls, Cornrows & Comb-overs on Saturday, Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to check out 19th-century examples of hair art like the one pictured above. I’ll be there taking another stab at a bracelet of my own. You can also learn about the science and culture of hair from a wide array of hair experts and enjoy hands-on activities.

Oh, the places you’ll go … with a nice beard

by Dr. David Powell, Evansville, Beard Team USA 2007 and 2009

I first learned about the world beard and mustache competition when it was featured on the Internet news. The 2005 event was in Berlin and the Germans won 15 of the 16 categories.

Phil Olson, the Beard Team USA captain, told how he was miffed at the outcome and suspected a little “home cooking” on the part of the German judges. He made an appeal on the Beard Team USA blog calling for every hirsute red-blooded American male to rise to the occasion, stop shaving and mount an assault on the 2007 World Beard and Mustache contest with the goal of taking back the top honors and bring them home to the U.S.A. Having maintained a well-trimmed beard for the last seven years and a sporty handlebar mustache since high school, I felt it my patriotic duty to join Beard Team USA and support my fellow Americans at the Brighton, England, event.

Tossing my razor aside, I went in to beard-training mode. The category I chose to compete in was “partial beard freestyle,” which meant I could use styling aides like mousse and hair spray but no artificial coloring or non-hair augmentation.

The 2009 Beard Team USA. Dr. Powell is second from right and Bremen Groves is fourth from right in the brown cap.

I came up with a western style costume like one of the gunfighters in the O.K. Corral, sort of Wyatt Earp style. It was complete with a black frock, boots, spurs and badge but sans the guns as they would have not been amusing to the “bobbies” in the UK.

The city of Brighton treated those of us on the Beard Team like rock stars! It was a sell-out crowd and just as exciting as … well, a cross between Project Runway and Hoosier Hysteria. I had my picture taken with dozens of fans and I made the evening news on the BBC Southwest, along with TV news in Norway, Portugal, World TV cable news and blogs, some of which I am still finding out about.

The Germans gave up many of the titles they took at the Berlin contest. I came in fourth place. Officially that means I was not first, second or third. There was a sell-out crowd in Brighton and more than $20,000 raised for a testicular cancer charity and the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton.

Upon returning from the UK event, I met up with Bremen Groves, my friend since fifth grade, and suggested that he consider entering the next WBMC.

Bremen sported a reddish-blond goatee that had a natural wavy character to it that I thought would give the USA team a boost. Unknown to either of us at that time, Bremen just happened to be a spitting image of the host beard club’s mascot, a Gabby Hayes gold miner looking character. That along with his never-met-a-stranger personality launched him into a tie for first place, natural goatee category. He came in second in a run-off against a fellow Beard Team member from California; a German came in third.

We both continue to “train” for the next beard event and still get stopped by locals asking for their pictures to be taken with us, and we try to encourage men to join Beard Team USA.

Come to the Indiana State Museum for Curls, Cornrows and Comb-overs on Saturday, Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and meet both of these Hoosier members of Beard Team USA. You can also learn about the science and culture of hair from a wide array of hair experts and enjoy hands-on activities.