Leila Cohoon of Independence, Missouri is a retired hairdresser. She now teaches hair weaving and runs her own cosmetology school. She is however, linked to hair in more ways than apparent. Leila collects hair art, and puts it all on display in her museum.
What is hair art, you ask? We wondered the same. Contrary to expectations, the museum does not display human hair in bunches, like the hair museum of Avanos, nor is the hair taken from the heads of the dead. Ask Leila, and she explains that hair art consists of intricate wreaths of hair set in frames to create beautiful designs. These frames were frequently used to decorate Victorian homes. Leila’s collection started in 1956, with wreaths and jewelry made from hair. Initially she stored her collection in her house, under the bed. Around 20 years ago, she decided to display them and started a one-room museum in her cosmetology school. She later rented out a commercial space and runs her museum there. The walls of Leila’s Hair Museum are completely covered from floor to ceiling, with hair art. Her collection includes over 300 wreaths and 2000 pieces of jewelry containing human hair.
Apart from the art, Leila also has on display strands of hair from the heads of some very famous personalities, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. While she is fond of all the pieces in her collection, her latest discovery is something she’s excited about. It’s an old engraving that she’s had for many years, that she liked. It looks like it’s just a finely cross-hatched pen and ink illustration. That’s what Leila thought too, until she removed it from the frame recently. On close inspection, she realized that it was created painstakingly with pulverized hair.
Some of the art pieces on display are indeed, exquisitely beautiful. Which makes us wonder, what made humans cut and collect their hair in this manner? Was it way of remembering their loved ones before cameras were invented? Or was it simply another creative, artistic expression? We may never really know.