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By Ashton Zimmerman
A hair museum? Strange, yes. But these thoughts are pushed aside when you actually visit Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence. Started in 1986, the museum is a museum of art that is made out of hair. Intricately crafted wreaths of flowers and hair adorn the walls. These garlands involve such meticulous work they take years to complete.
Owner Leila Cohoon has collected more than four hundred hair wreaths and two thousand pieces of jewelry. Leila is always on the search for more pieces, scouring antique dealers, garage sales, and auctions.
Each piece of the collection holds a story. Leila points to the first hair artwork she bought in 1956 and says, “My husband says that one’s the most expensive.” Leila was going to buy shoes that day but instead bought the hair creation, spurring her to buy hundreds more over the years.
Most of the hair wreaths were crafted in the Victorian era. The art form acted as a marker in time, as the artist might snip his or her hair at a particular age to create a wreath to document that period of life. Many wreaths held family histories, each generation contributing locks of hair. Crafters often included horse hair since horse hair does not fade in color. White horse hair also provided a striking contrast against mostly brunette wreaths.
Leila has now learned how to weave hair herself. Of the thirty techniques she’s identified, she has figured out how to recreate twenty-six. And, if looking at these odd works of art isn’t enough for you, Leila teaches classes on hair weaving so you can create these beautiful hair wreaths yourself.
This story originally ran in the February 2013 issue of Missouri Life. For more stories like this, subscribe to Missouri Life.