Event Coverage

Museum Exhibit Focused on HAIR!

Maggie Mulhern | October 22, 2015 | 5:21 AM
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Head of a Man Cypriot, mid-5th century BCE Limestone The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cesnola Collection Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 (74.51.2826)
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Portrait of Julia Domna Roman, ca. 203–217 CE Marble Yale University Art Gallery Ruth Elizabeth White Fund (2010.143.1)
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10 Drachm (decadrachm) with Arethusa Greek, Syracuse, 405–400 BCE Obverse: Arethusa head l., four dolphins around, ΣΥΡΑΚΟΣΙΟ Reverse: quadriga I., Nike flying above r., crowning charioteer Silver The American Numismatic Society (1964.79.21)
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Head of a Doll ResemblingJulia Domna Roman, 3rd century CE Ivory 1 1Ž2 x 1 1/8 x 1 1/8 inches (3.8 x 2.8 x 2.8 cm) Yale University Art Gallery Gift of Thomas T. Solley, B.A. 1950 (2002.15.1)
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Statuette of a Running Gorgon Greek, 540 BCE Bronze 3 1Ž2 x 3 1/16 x 9/16 inches (8.85 x 7.8 x 1.5 cm) Yale University Art Gallery (2002.95.2)
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Denarius of Augustus Obverse: Octavian head to right Reverse: IMP CAESAR; triumphal arch surmounted by quadriga in which Octavian stands Roman, 29–27 BCE Silver Diameter 13/16 inches (20.5 mm) The American Numismatic Society (1957.172.1500)
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It had to happen—a museum exhibit devoted to hair! "Hair In the Classical World" dominates the space in the Bellarmine Museum of Art at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut. There are more than 30 pieces on display that focus on shape and style, glorified by sculptors and artists in ancient Greece, Cyprus and Rome. Busts, coins, sculptures, hair accessories and combs are all part of the exhibit that is open to the public (for free!) until December 18, 2015.

The press release states that from antiquity to the present day, hair has seldom been worn in its natural state. "Whether cut, shorn, curled, straightened, braided, beaded, worn in an upsweep or down to the knees, adorned with pins, combs, bows, garlands, extensions, and other accouterments, hair has the power to reflect societal norms. In ancient cultures, not only did hairstyles and their depictions signal wealth and social status, or divine and mythological iconography; they were also tied to rites of passage and religious rituals." The exhibit examines the role of hair through three thematic lenses: Arrangement and Adornment; Rituals and Rites of Passage; and Divine and Royal Iconography. The objects date from the Bronze Age to late Antiquity (1500 BCE – 600 CE), and illustrate the ways in which hair and hairstyles served as important signifiers in Classical Antiquity.

MODERN stopped by and met with the curators, Dr. Katherine Schwab and Dr. Marice Rose, art history professors in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Fairfield University, and asked some burning questions:


KS: The subject of hair is universal because nearly everyone has it. Hair is something we attend to every day, and with it we can change its appearance  through texture, color, length, and style.  In 2009 I directed The Caryatid Hairstyling Project to learn if the complex hairstyles with fishtail braids could be replicated. From an art historical point of view we did not know if this was possible. Thanks to the expert advice and work of Milexy Torres, a professional hair stylist based here in CT, we were able to replicate the six hair styles worn by these ancient sculptures of maidens carved in the fifth century BCE. Sustained interest in that project formed the genesis for a larger exploration which is this exhibition, Hair in the Classical World.
MR: We realized nobody had talked about hairstyling in the ancient Mediterranean world over a broad time span in a  thematic, way and an art exhibition is the perfect way to do that. Our exhibition is divided into three overlapping themes: Arrangement and Adornment; Ritual and Rites of Passage; and Divine and Royal Iconography, and looks at art from the Aegean Bronze Age (1800-1200 BCE) to the late Roman empire (fourth century CE).

KS: Marice Rose and I developed lists of objects we hoped to include in the exhibition all the while remaining mindful of our geographic location and superb museum collections in CT and NYC.  This is a normal process in developing an exhibition, with our museum director making a formal request to the director of each collection.

KS: Our loans are from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Numismatic Society, and Yale University Art Gallery.  We are so grateful to these institutions for their generosity in lending to us for this exhibition.

KS: I had shown Milexy Torres, the professional hair stylist, photos of all the objects prior to their installation. She was fascinated by each image and commented at the end that it has all been done before. With this in mind, hairdressers today can find inspiration from art of the past, including Classical Antiquity. These earlier styles can form points of departure for creative and new ideas.
MR: They can also learn more about the history of their art, from the specific braids or up-dos to the use of sculpted decorative hairpins, to the types of tools that were used to make the styles (for example, brushes weren’t used in antiquity, but combs were common). It also gives a view of how hair has been closely linked to people’s identity for thousands of years.

KS: Many students came to the opening reception and their comments were illuminating. They were excited by the topic of hair, how it connects to fashion, and that something from daily life is the focus of an art exhibition. Students have also begun to realize that hair is a unique way of learning about a culture no matter how distant it may be from today. Hair gives insights into societal values, gender differentiation, rituals often associated with rites of passage, as well as imaginative and creative ways a person (young or old) might wear his or her hair within conventions of the time. The exhibition also gives all visitors great insight into the Classical past, for which we have a strong base in the curriculum. Fairfield is uniquely positioned to offer this exhibition because of the Caryatid Hairstyling Project and its continually growing popularity combined with the complementary scholarly areas Marice Rose and I can bring to this exhibition.  "Hair in the Classical World" marks the 5th anniversary of the Bellarmine Museum of Art, a celebration in its own right.  Our first temporary exhibition was Gifts from Athens, which had its own focus on contemporary images referring to Greek antiquities.

KS:  This is a very tough question! I have many favorites. Perhaps the Greek silver coins are among my favorites because of the extraordinary detail the ancient sculptor gave to the design of these coins including the precision and beauty of the different hairstyles.
MR: Yes, very hard question! I like the Cypriot sculpted heads because to my knowledge their hair has never been examined closely before, so one looks at them from a completely new perspective. Julia Domna and the girl’s head also really make the ancient styles and the ideas of the exhibition very real, because they are so life-like.


Fairfield University Bellarmine Museum of Art, 1073 North Benson Road, Fairfield, CT 06460
For more information, please call (203) 254-4046 or email [email protected]


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