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Rave

In Missouri, locks of love

A remembrance brooch depicts a tree made of a woman's hair. A remembrance brooch depicts a tree made of a woman's hair.
September 28, 2008
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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. - For the past 50 years, hairdresser Leila Cohoon has been acquiring strands of the hair of famous folk, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis. She also developed a passion for anything decorated with hair, such as wreaths, jewelry, and even furniture.

As her collection grew, she opened Leila's Hair Museum in a tiny strip mall. Clearly this showplace of 300 wreaths and 2,000 pieces of jewelry made from human hair is no regular folk art museum.

A century ago hair wreaths were family keepsakes embroidered with dates of birth, weddings, and deaths. Women created them by weaving strands of hair around a wire into delicate shapes and embellishing them with seed pearls, ribbons, strips of baby clothes, and satin from wedding dresses.

Scenes on jewelry pieces were painted with hair that had been mashed into a powder then mixed with acrylics. One brooch, a remembrance piece, depicts a man standing by his wife's grave under a weeping willow tree woven from her hair.

Many of the pieces are astonishing; all are poignant. Cohoon tells visitors that her fondest wish would be if all the people whose hair she has in her museum would return from the dead for a chat.

Leila's Hair Museum, 1333 South Noland Road, Independence, Mo. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., adults $5, seniors and children under 12 $2.50, hairwork.com/leila/, 816-833-2955.

FRANCES J. FOLSOM

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