Exhibition Techniques: Creating Wigs (Part III)

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Finally, I’m happy to present the third in our series of exhibition wig-maker profiles. The first two are here (Sophia Gan of LACMA) and here (Mela Hoyt-Heydon of Fullerton College).  Today, I’m sharing the conversation I had with Carolyn Jamerson, who works at the FIDM Museum as the Study Collection Manager and Mount maker. She graduated from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in 2008 with an Associates of Arts in Fashion Design and a Professional Designation in Theater Costume Design.

Heather Vaughan: How long have you been making wigs for fashion exhibitions?

Carolyn Jamerson: I have been working on making wigs for about a year now.

Vaughan: What kind of materials do you use? Can you describe your technique (step-by-step if possible)?

Jamerson: When it comes to making paper hair, start by researching the desired hairstyle that will fit the time period. After use watercolor paper and cut it down to a manageable size, cut about ½ inch strips into the paper leaving about a half inch at the top that is folded over and used as that folded over surface to tape onto the mannequin. The ½ cut strips can be cut in straight lines or in various forms of wavy to add different texture. The next step is taping them onto the mannequin layering it like you would real hair. Using a #2 pencil you can curl the hair or curl the hair then straighten it to help relax the paper. Then use pieces of rolled tape to hold stray hair in place, making sure that none of the tape shows once tape down. After that the rest is up to creativity and experimentation.

Material list:

  • Scotch tape (sometime stronger tape is needed or maybe archival hot glue)
  • 70lb medium surface drawing or watercolor paper
  • Scissors
  • #2 pencil (the hexagon shape helps the curls to hold)
  • Sharpie for larger curls

Vaughan: How do you begin, what sources do you use, what kind of research do you do? What exhibition design aspects do you consider?

Jamerson: Start with the garment itself, ideally it will have picture research already. Otherwise we take the object date and try to find a fashion plate or photo that matches the desirable look. One of the things that I try to do is to make each hairstyle slightly different, especially when creating multiple styles from the same time period. If the mannequins are of a different color than then the wigs, the wigs will become distracting.

Image via Carolyn Jamerson, FIDM (by FIDM Museum photographer Brian Sanderson )

Vaughan: Are there certain periods you find especially challenging?

Jamerson: I found that the mod hair of the 60’s to be rather difficult. It had to be so structured, while still laying smooth and flat. It seems the more hair and volume that you have, the more there is to cover up the mistakes.

Vaughan: How long does it take you to make a single wig?

Jamerson: That can vary quite a bit, based on how intricate and how much time I have to play around with it. So it can take anywhere between one hour to four.

Vaughan: What exhibitions has your work appeared in (historic and recent)? Or what were your favorite exhibition /time period for which you have made wigs?

Jamerson: Other than making a few wigs for displays around the FIDM campus, the main exhibition that I made wigs for was “Re-Designing History: FIDM Museum Study Collection, 1850-2000.” We had wigs on all 35 pieces, spanning 150 years.

Image via Carolyn Jamerson, FIDM (by FIDM Museum photographer Brian Sanderson )

VaughanCan you tell me a little about the kinds of wigs that have been historically used for exhibitions? What are the benefits and downsides?

Jamerson: In the past, our museum made crepe paper wigs, which were great in creating an overall silhouette but they were very time-consuming, restrictive in what can be created and also looked bulky. That is the reason why our museum loves this method as it is simple, clean and looks more accurate.

Vaughan: What has been your favorite exhibition to work on? Is there a particular time period you love? Why?

Jamerson: So far I have only done one major exhibition and truly it would be my favorite anyway, because this exhibition was the first one that I was responsible for planning. As to which hairstyle is my favorite, that would all depend on my mood. I loved the 1872 hair that I did for a tan and brown day suit because it was so pretty. But on the flip side, I did this wild and crazy hair for a 1980’s acid wash dress, which had a curly mo-hawk on top, shaved sides with a mullet going down the back. It was sick!

Vaughan: What advice would you give to students or new museum employees about wig-making?

Jamerson: When working on wigs not only can you fold the paper at the top horizontally-creating a straight hairline, but if you fold it at an angle it can create a more natural looking hair line. It seems simple but it was revolutionarily helpful. Otherwise just have fun, think of it as practice for different hairstyles that you can do for your own hair, or create styles that you would never have the guts to wear yourself.

Vaughan: What happens to the wigs once the exhibition is finished?

Jamerson: Sometimes we try to reuse them for other displays; sadly most of them are thrown away.

*Credit Line: Photo via Carolyn Jamerson, (by FIDM Museum photographer Brian Sanderson)

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