Glaring at me with bloodshot eyes, Galip Körükçü makes it clear he isn’t too happy with my siesta-busting, mid-afternoon intrusion. I’m at Chez Galip, his famous pottery shop in the town of Avanos, some 8 km from Göreme, the historical centre of Cappadocia, Turkey.
Avanos is known for its beautiful pottery, fashioned out of the red, mineral-rich clay dredged up from the bed of the nearby Kizilirmak River. But that’s not what draws me to his shop. I’m interested in what lies beneath, carefully hidden, in the basement. The Avanos Hair Museum is Körükçü’s shrine to women’s hair. Now 63, he’s been building it up one lock at a time since 1979.
Leila Cohoon at her museum of hair art in Missouri.
- Another hair museum, Leila’s, in Missouri, does things a bit differently.
- Established in 1986 by Leila Cohoon, a retired cosmetology teacher, the museum displays samples of hair art dating back to the 16th century.
- These range from wearable trinkets like neckpieces and brooches to paintings and medallions, all made using human hair.
- The practice of making art and artefacts from hair reached its zenith in Victorian-era England and France, when people commissioned such work as mementos of loved ones.
Eager not to be turned away, I blurt out that I was born in 1979. I can’t imagine that really helped, but the Albert Einstein lookalike did, for whatever reason, relent and let me in.
Entry to the museum is free and everyone is welcome (provided they inform him in advance by telephone, he growls).
I’m led down a flight of stone steps into a large tunnel covered — from floor to ceiling — in locks of hair of varying lengths, textures and colours, each attached to a slip of paper bearing the donor’s name and country of origin.
Over 40 years, Körükçü has collected over 16,000 locks, left behind voluntarily by women visitors from around the world. A table at the end of the tunnel now bears scissors, duct tape, thumb tacks, pen and paper, so women can set up their own exhibits.
Körükçü says it all started when a French woman, who was studying pottery under him, left behind a few strands of her hair as a memento. This gave him the idea of asking other women students to donate a lock too; he just thought it would be “an interesting log”.
Then visitors began to hear of the basement oddity, and women who visited said they wanted to be on the walls too, and so it grew.
Now, every six months — in the beginning of June and December — the first visitor to the pottery shop is asked to select 10 striking locks from the museum, and the women they belong to are invited back to his studio for a free week of board, lodging and pottery classes.
“Why aren’t men invited to leave behind their hair?” I ask as I leave. He glares upwards in the direction of my buzz cut and scowls. I have my answer.