- Elginism - http://www.elginism.com -

Studying the wavy, thick, textured hair sported by the young women of ancient Greece

Now that the Caryatids are in the New Acropolis Museum, it is much easier to see all sides of them than it once was. I have often noticed that while from a distance they all appear to be almost identical, if you look closely at them there are differences in their hairstyles. Professor Katherine Schwab at the University of Fairfield has put extensive research into their hairstyles, trying to determine whether they are based on real styles of the day, or just a fanciful artistic interpretation.

You can view more details of the Caryatid Hairstyling Project, including photos at Fairfield University’s website [1].

Greenwich Citizen [2]

Grecian formula: Archeologist unravels the ancient hairdos of the Caryatids
Published 2:58 p.m., Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Professor Katherine “Kathy” Schwab is fixated on hair. Not just any hair mind you. No, Schwab, who teaches Art History at Fairfield University, is fascinated by the long, wavy, thick, textured hair sported by the young women of ancient Greece.

Yes, ancient Greece.

Schwab told a group of members and guests of the Greenwich Archeological Associates at the Bruce Museum recently just how this hair fixation began during a regular study trip to Athens a few years ago.

There, Schwab said, she spent a lot of time with the Caryatids, those marble maidens who used to live on the Athenian Acropolis, standing there submissively for more than 2,000 years — like columns –holding up the south porch of the Erechtheion. Five of the six maidens have found a home in the new Acropolis Museum. Lord Elgin made off with the sixth maiden years ago for display in the British Museum. In their places at the Acropolis, cement casts are likely fooling the tourists.

So, it was one of the Caryatids’ hairstyles that caught Schwab’s attention, specifically Kore (maiden in Greek) A. This one was different from Kores B, C, D, E and F. This difference prompted Schwab to learn the significance of hair in classical Greece and how long hair was the sign of aristocracy.

“We’ve found hair in a tomb,” she said, “They would dedicate their braids to the Gods.”

Schwab knew the Kores were elite maidens, 15 years of age, who traditionally would lead religious ceremonies. And, in their marble splendor, “They wore a light-weight woolen dress,” she said, “with a mantel attached to their shoulders that hung down their back.”

But Schwab couldn’t figure out how the Kores’ intricate hair styles with their massive braids and twists of hair were created. She needed to consult with a professional hairstylist. She found one in Fairfield — Milexy Torres — and approached her with archival photographs of Kore A.

Schwab quickly learned about what she was looking at — something known as single and double fishtail braids, with the heads ingeniously joined to the capitals (the column tops) with a circle of braids of the sculptor’s invention.

“Could you recreate Kore A’s hairstyle?” Schwab asked Torres, who willingly said she would.

From there, Schwab’s idea grew. “What about the other Kores’ hairstyles?” she wondered. And why not enlist a few students to sport them? And the Caryatid Hairstyling Project was born (circa 2009).

Six abundantly haired female student volunteers were found. “I selected students on their hair’s length and thickness,” Schwab said.

And Torres went to work — for seven hours.

“She matched texture to the style of headdress,” said Schwab, with some volunteers being easier to style than others. One blonde volunteer, for example, with perfect texture, took just 40 minutes to style. A straight-haired volunteer, on the other hand, “took a lot of hot iron work,” said Schwab.

A resulting 18-minute film of the Caryatid Hairstyling Project was made, showing the Kore hairstyle re-creations in process. It has now been seen at colleges and universities across the U.S., in Japan and at the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. A signature image in the film is of the six students with their Caryatid hairdos standing like columns in position on the lawn of Fairfield University — where they cast shadows similar to the Caryatids!

Schwab is now a frequent speaker on her Caryatid Hairstyling Project, and her lecture topics include, “How to Braid Your Hair like a Greek Goddess.” She has mesmerized those she chats with about hair — even when she’s telling that hair starts to fall out when you pass your teens.

“I had to learn the science of hair,” she said. We all wash our hair too much, she explained, and we mustn’t towel it dry. “You need to treat hair like you do your best cashmere sweater.”

Schwab has also learned that hair is a multibillion dollar industry in the U.S. “The No. 1 topic to sell magazines is sex,” she said, “The second topic is hair.”

“Did you know there’s a Braiding Bar at Bergdorf Goodman in New York,” Schwab added, or that there is an exhibit in Paris on the “Art of Hair” at their Quai Branly Museum? And did we know there’s a new book called, “Hair: The Long and the Short of It,” by Art Neufeld?

“A colleague brought it to my attention,” she said, “It’s terrific and — very helpful for my understanding about the fundamentals of hair!”

For a Ph.D. with a serious specialty in Greek art, Schwab never imagined she would be talking so much about hairstyles — but she is in the planning stages on a course and related exhibition in 2015 at Fairfield University. Its name? “Hair in the Classical World.”

For more information on the Caryatid Hairstyling Project, visit http://www.fairfield.edu/caryatid; Anne W. Semmes is a staff reporter at the Greenwich Citizen.