Cohoon isn't among these ignoramuses. At least she hasn't been since 1957. One day that spring, she left her beauty salon and made a trip to the Plaza, where she planned to buy Easter shoes. On the way, she ventured into an antique shop and saw a hair design encased in a gold frame, with a message in German and the inscription "1852, Mama and Papa." Cohoon was so intrigued that she returned home without Easter shoes, having instead purchased the first piece in her hair-art collection.
Cohoon never intended to start a museum-sized collection of these things. She simply operated the Independence College of Cosmetology. But eventually she had no choice but to open Leila's Hair Museum. "I had too many of these things under my bed and in my closet," she recalls. "I couldn't hide them from my husband anymore."
This month, curious Kansas Citians can see Cohoon's hair wreaths and hair jewelry -- all made in the nineteenth century -- not just at Leila's Hair Museum but also on special display at the Bingham Waggoner Estate.
Meanwhile, Cohoon has turned the cosmetology college over to her daughter so she can concentrate on writing her book, Hair and Genealogy. In it, she plans to debunk the myth that hair art was inspired solely by the need to mourn loved ones who had left behind a few stray hairs.
Cohoon cites examples of hair art clearly created for archival purposes, such as a piece from 1865 that includes hair from all the members of the League of Women Voters. The league, Cohoon says, claims that its organization started in 1920. "But I have something here that says that's not so," Cohoon says. "This is history that says something different."