Museum Talk

Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Buffalo Island Museum has an antique permanent chair on display.

From laser treatments to plastic surgery, it seems that people today will stop at nothing to improve their looks and meet the latest trend. Without recorded history, we might be inclined to think that people of the past weren’t as vain as we are today. Fortunately, we have historical evidence that shows it to be a timeless human problem. Whether it was Greco-Roman “mud” baths in crocodile dung, or the ancient Chinese practice of foot binding, humanity has always been concerned with improving their appearance. Victorian women wore elaborate wigs held together by lard and grease and Italian women squeezed deadly nightshade berries into their eyes to dilate their pupils.

The Permanent Wave Machine is another example. At first glance, visitors are often shocked by its appearance. Its gangly wires hang menacingly over a floral upholstered chair, making it seem both odd and slightly frightening. However, visitors should not be alarmed as it was not designed with any sinister purpose in mind. It is simply an antique beauty device that produced long lasting curls. The electricity coursing through the wires would create heat. This heat would be transferred to the client’s hair by clipping the metal ends onto her rolled hair.

As primitive as it may seem in comparison to our modern techniques of hair design, the permanent wave machine was innovative and popular. Although it came with some risks of scalp burns and hair damage, women and girls of Monette were able to keep their hair on trend throughout the 1940s thanks to this apparatus.

This and other glimpses into the past can be viewed at the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette on Fridays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. Admission is free; donations are accepted.

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