Category Archives: hair comb

Inupiaq Walrus Ivory Comb

The Museum Showed the Comb Upside Down

History is rarely told by the vanquished. If we find their story, we who live in the world of the conquerors don’t know how to read it. We highlight a big ship as the central character in an artwork, as did The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

Native people in the Plains had five categories of geometric design, mostly used on decorative robes: the box and border, the hourglass and border, the bilaterally symmetrical, the horizontal stripes, and the feathered circle.

Through trade, it is possible that the bilaterally symmetrical pattern, favored by the Lakota Sioux of North Dakota, came down from the Inupiaq of Alaskan Bering Sea. The Inupiaq use their bilaterally symmetrical writing system on this comb, c. 1840 – 1890: two-dimensional pictographs and petroglyphs organized in vertical sections, with a set of two horizontal lines in composite perspectives — the bottom, right-side up, and the top, upside down.

However, unlike the way the San Francisco museum shows this comb, the ship should be upside down, because its story is a documentary about battle, despair, the loss of self, and defeat. Blood makes the bottom geometric pattern red.

The comb correctly shown. It was made c. 1840-1890, a turbulent period in American history: Little Bighorn (1876), Wounded Knee (1890).

Before American commercial whaling, Inupiaq culture depended on subsistence whaling and walrus hunting; a traditional religion with shamans and spirit masks; ships called umiaks, which carried up to 15 people and a ton of cargo; ice fishing; and dog sleds. The whaling ships were followed by Protestant missionaries, who converted everyone to Christianity in 10 years (1890-1900).

The ivory amulet on the right shows a man ice fishing. You can see the fish under water.

an umiak

By 1892, commercial whaling had destroyed the culture by employing Inupiaq hunters to work for them and kill whales on an industrial scale. They became a low-wage labor force. Diseases spread. Their traditional religion of ceremonies and dream spirits had disappeared. The church destroyed their language by teaching scrimshaw artists to draw in a three-dimensional realistic Western style.

This model of a New England whaling ship was made, c. 1850.

The comb portrays this story in the traditional language.

From the top:

Section 1: The top row (upside down) shows dog sledding. The second row (right-side up) looks like life in the village.

Section 2: First row (upside down) portrays an American whaling ship — the root of this culture’s destruction. The second row (right-side up) portrays an umiak — a large open skin-boat, which was used for hunting whale and walrus, and for trading voyages. Most of these boats were 15-20 feet long. They were constructed by lashing seal skins to a wooden frame. Fifteen people and a ton of cargo could fit comfortably.

Section 3: Both rows show a battle between sailors and villagers that ends in defeat, hence the blood on the bottom, almost making the geometric pattern a fourth section.

As for the comb’s use, the fact that there are tines on both sides favors utilitarian tasks, such as combing hair, combing skins, combing out lice, or preparing elaborate hairdos. One example has a bun at the back, with two braids folded over the ears and joining the knot behind.

Woman with an elaborate braided hairstyle

Because of the rarity of perspective, disappeared language, concise storytelling, traditional materials, and blood at the end, this comb is a masterpiece and a miracle of survival.



Sivuninga Sikum (The Meaning of Ice)

Arctic ivory

Carving Life

Creative Museum: From the Ottomans to the Qajars

The boundaries of the Ottoman and Persian Empires often overlapped over the course of history Their art has been enriched by many outside influences such as Central Asian, Indian, and even Chinese. Qajar is a Turkish word meaning people who walk quickly. Qajars were a Turkish-speaking minority with pastoral and nomadic lives based in Northern Persia. From the 18th to the beginning of the 20th Century, they established a dynasty, which produced a wonderful culture.

As Islam spread across through Central Asia and the Middle East, it’s not at all surprising to find images of Islamic riders with turbans on hair combs. The art of the miniature lives on this Ottoman piece, which depicts an aristocratic game of polo. Note the qualities of the drawing with its elegant, precise lines and vivid colors.

This other Ottoman comb depicts more polo players, but this time in a more stylized way. The comb itself is of camel bone, made of 4 or 5 panels stuck together to form a flat surface.

The court scene shows guests, with a glass in hand, sitting around a dish of fruit and jugs of wine.

This comb shows a scene symbolizing the pleasures of life. a smiling young woman sitting beside two musicians, offers a delicacy to the man.

Going from left to right, this comb depicts a pair of lovers. Beside them are their servants, who are cooking, while a young girl is dancing to the rhythm of a tambourine. Musical instruments, jugs of wine, and fruit are recurrent motifs because they evoke a heavenly life. These combs were probably worn by men.

Calligraphy is a very important kind of decoration, too, because writing is linked to the Koran. A Koranic verse, painted or carved, gives a talismanic quality to any object, so such a comb had a protective power, and the owner received its benefits each time he combed his hair.

For many Muslims, calligraphy is not only an art form, but also a meditative action and an act of devotion. Persian calligraphy can take various forms and styles, always ornate and complex. Here, downstrokes and upstrokes develop elegant scrolls covering the surface of the comb. To read the letters, the comb has to be held upside down.

As men turned their attention to their own appearance, elaborate mirrored storage cases came with these combs. They were made of brocade or of wood marquetry. The cases attempted to celebrate the beauty of the world, which is a reflection of heaven. The central motif on this one is called Mahi. It is a dark, diamond-shaped medallion elongated by pendants. This pattern can be seen on many carpets, especially on the city of Tabriz.

A traditional mosaic that adorned combs and boxes had incrustation work, which was called khatam kari. This art form was typically made in Shiraz and Isfahan and has been appreciated since the Safavid period. The craftsman imagines a star-shaped design, then he assembles and glues together copper, gold, or silver, rods; sticks of different types of wood; and ivory or or camel bone. Each stick has a delta-shaped cross section in order to form a cohesive unit that matches the wanted design. The cylinder is then cut into thin slices, and the sections are then ready to be plated and glued to the object ready to be decorated.

Wood carving is another type of comb also drawing on traditional methods. Two hinged X- shaped panels are cut out from a single piece of wood, then decorated with carved flowers and birds. This type of comb evokes the carved wooden Koran stands used for teaching and praying. Similar stands can also be seen in Armenian churches.

Our exhibition ends with an allegory of love: the famous motif the rose and the nightingale, Gol o Bulbul. This decoration spread throughout Persia and flourished during the Qatar Dynasty. It is still active in modern-day Iran. This miniature is a good example of Persian refinement imbued with poetry.

Poetry’s link to the Iranian people’s spirituality, where each daily gesture is sanctified. Studying hair combs has allowed us a glimpse of the Iranian patrimony. Its persisting traditions open doors to a large culture able to delight all art lovers.


The full exhibit is available in French and English at the Creative Museum

Learning from the Creative Museum and Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

In quotes are comments from Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment by Truus Daalder. Reference numbers are in italics and specified at the bottom. The photographs and other writing come from the collection and scholarship of The Creative Museum. I thought it would be interesting to combine them. They crossed paths in China, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia.


“It is in the hairstyles and head decorations that perhaps the greatest variety of shapes exist, and the Southern Chinese minorities are possibly second only to the Mongolians in the exuberance of their headwear, particularly during festivals. Girls preserve hair lost in combing to compose extra hairpieces to incorporate into elaborate coiffures.” (1)

The dots and circles on the bone tines of this comb from The Creative Museum were made using pyrography, a technique where decorations are burned into wood or bone using a heated object. It also has cotton threads, black and white glass beads and a huge red pom pom in the middle. Red is the color of good fortune in China. The comb belongs to the Yao people.

“In pre-historic times, most of present-day Indonesia was attached to mainland Southeast Asia… However, when the ice melted after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, low-lying land was covered by sea, and Indonesia turned into a country of thousands of islands… Over time, waves of migrants came to the Indonesian islands, particularly from mainland Southeast Asia.” (2)

The dugout-canoe shape of this striking, lacquered black-horn comb from the Creative Museum evokes the boat that brought ancestors from the south-east Asiatic continent to the Indonesian archipelago. It was made c. 1970.

“The mainland of Southeast Asia is the meeting place of many borders and many ethnic groups. Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam share many of their borders with each other, and often share ethnic groups, as well.” (3)

Among the reasons for this are

  • During the Ming Dynasty, the Han Chinese pushed minority groups south, and many settled in Southeast Asia
  • Barbarian invasions from the North and Northwest pushed some Tai language speakers to Burma, Laos, and Thailand
  • In the 19th century, kingdoms, such as the Khmer in Cambodia, gained and lost power, and there was British and French colonial expansion. Both factors changed the borders within Southeast Asia
  • In 1949, minority groups who fought Communism fled China when Mao won, and fled Laos in 1975, when the Communists took over there
  • Borders were of little concern to ethnic groups who practiced slash-and-burn agriculture (4)

The pyramid-shaped hair pins from The Creative Museum are worn by Red Taï and Hmong women in Laos. Their hairstyles often took more than one pin to keep them in place.

Made in the early 20th Century, the long one has a pyramid shape and ornate filigree decorations. It is hollow with a lid and used as a tobacco container, a marriage between beauty and function. The shorter one is wood wrapped in silver.

“The last dynasty before a period of instability and finally the victory of Communism in 1949 was the Manchu Qing Dynasty, consisting of Manchurian invaders from the North, which ruled from 1644 – 1911… Coral, jade, and pearls were popular, and during the Qing Dynasty there was also a revival of kingfisher feather jewellery. This was so popular that the kingfisher bird with the brightest blue feathers was hunted to extinction” (5)

Showcasing this history, the last piece I will feature is The Creative Museum’s stunning Manchu hairpin. It has three dimensions. The first layer is made of branch coral, amber, jadeite, and kingfisher feathers. The second layer is a circle of small coral beads, strung in small heart shapes. The third has a kingfisher decoration at the center. The piece is shaped to form a flower and bring good luck to the wearer.


For more scholarly research, please see the exhibits and publications of The Creative Museum. To order a copy of Chinese and Japanese Hair Ornaments, please write to Payment can be made through Paypal.

Also, every collector must have

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

(1) Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, by Truus Daalder, page 216
(2) Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, by Truus Daalder, page 171
(3) Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, by Truus Daalder, page 209
(4) Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, by Truus Daalder, page 209
(5) Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment, by Truus Daalder, page 218

Jessica Beauchemin: Collection Bestiaire and A Sense of Time


Ms. Beauchemin writes in French. English speakers may read a translation in the first comment.

Bestiaire I - Dasyatis sephen

Bestiaire I – Dasyatis sephen, 2011
Medium: Black Ebony, Movingui Veneer, Stingray polished and non polished
Finish: Linseed Oil and Beeswax
Techniques: Bending, Sculpture, Marquetry
Dimensions: 26 x 10.5 x 3 cm
Photographer: Nicolas Chentrier

Bestiaire II - Alcedo atthis

Bestiaire II – Alcedo atthis, 2011
Medium: Black Ebony, Black Ebony and Tinted Sycamore Veneers, Kingfisher Feathers
Finish: Beeswax
Techniques: Bending, Sculpture, Marquetry
Dimensions: 30.5 x 9 x 4.5 cm
Photographer: Nicolas Chentrier

Bestiaire III - Pinctada

Bestiaire III – Pinctada, 2011
Medium: Black Ebony, Bleached Anegre Veneer, Mother of pearl
Finish: Beeswax
Techniques: Bending, Sculpture, Marquetry
Dimensions: 20.5 x 10.5 x 7 cm
Photographer: Nicolas Chentrier

La recherche et le dépassement font partie intégrante de mon travail de création. À l’automne 2011, j’ai eu la chance de réaliser un projet de recherche dont l’objectif était d’apprendre à travailler trois matériaux traditionnels d’origine animale – le galuchat, les plumes et la nacre. Ce projet m’a permis de maîtriser et d’intégrer ces matières à mes créations. Au final, j’ai créé le triptyque Bestiaire, une collection de trois ornements de coiffure sculpturaux : Bestiaire I – Dasyatis sephen; Bestiaire II – Alcedo atthis et Bestiaire III – Pinctada.

À travers ce projet, j’ai pris conscience de l’importance du temps dans ma démarche artistique. À une époque où le temps est calculé en efficacité et en rentabilité, mon travail de création, axé sur le détail, la précision et la minutie, se veut un éloge du temps. Plus une pièce exige de moi temps, application et précision, plus j’ai l’impression de respecter la matière et d’être en harmonie avec mon art. À l’image des artistes et artisans d’une autre époque, je souhaite valoriser le geste et le temps associé à sa maitrise.

Je veux poursuivre dans cette voie, en prenant le temps d’explorer de nouvelles matières en association avec le bois. Je souhaite également développer l’aspect sculptural de mes pièces; créer des œuvres indépendantes dont on oublie la fonction.

À suivre… dans quelque temps…


To explore or purchase these museum pieces of modern art, please visit the web site of Jessica Beauchemin

Creative Museum: Folk and Personal Combs

By The Creative Museum:

Nous ouvrons toujours des yeux émerveillés devant des peignes qui méritent le titre d’œuvre d’art. Nous admirons la beauté et la richesse des matériaux, la perfection des formes, le savoir-faire des orfèvres qui créent ces véritables bijoux.

Mais c’est un autre sentiment tout particulier qui nous saisit devant les témoignages d’art populaire.
Ils nous parlent des traditions d’une région et nous font saisir l’âme des gens.

Un peigne confectionné par une personne individuelle nous touche par sa charge sentimentale. On est ému par ses maladresses de formes et de façon. On cherche à déchiffrer le sens de ce qui est représenté. C’est une pièce destinée au départ à une personne précise. Mais elle a pu traverser les générations et elle est alors porteuse de toute une histoire. Si nous laissons notre imagination vagabonder, on peut en voir le film.

Ce peigne peut être naïf, les matériaux peuvent être de vil prix. Et pourtant il devient un objet de valeur par le fait qu’il est unique.


For more scholarly research, please examine

American Folk Art by William C. Ketchum Primitive and Folk Jewelry by Michael Gerlach
French Folk Art by Jean Cuisenier

Creative Museum: Haute Couture Combs

Par le Creative Museum:

Les défilés de Haute Couture sont toujours attendus avec intérêt car on aime à être ébloui par la féerie de couleurs et de formes qui s’y déploient. Les grands couturiers donnent tout pouvoir à leur imagination pour concevoir des parures vestimentaires qui frappent le regard et soient en même temps appréciées au même titre que des œuvres d’art.

De ce fait, une création prendra tout son sens si elle est accompagnée des accessoires assortis. Coiffure, peignes, chapeau, maquillage, ceinture ou chaussures doivent ajouter une note particulière : soit accompagner, soit contraster ou encore renforcer un effet.

Il est donc intéressant d’observer les ornements de coiffure créés par les grands couturiers pour certains défilés car ils évoquent à eux seuls le monde de la mode et l’univers particulier des créateurs.

Comb by Chanel

Two combs with enamelled design, by Alexandre

High comb by Christian Dior

Pour voir plus de peignes par des designers de mode, rechercher Lea Stein, Alexandre, Chanel, Adrien Mann dans le Creative Museum:

How I stumbled upon hair ornaments…

By Jessica Beauchemin:

I stumbled upon hair ornaments by chance, and to this day, I am still moved by this surprising story…

Following studies in Artistic Cabinet-Making and work in a small shop, very soon I felt the need to make woodworking my own, to develop a more personal approach to my trade. With this in mind, I started looking for the perfect medium, the element that would become the focus of my practice.

Through my research, I came across a wonderful book: Le Peigne dans le Monde by Robert Bollé (“Combs of the World”). Mr Bollé comes from a family of comb makers from Oyonnax, former “comb capital of the world.”

Following the two Great Wars, comb popularity declined. Thus, in  1946, Robert’s father Georges Bollé made the first nylon pair of glasses in the world. In 1978, Robert Bollé took over his father’s business. Even though they were now making only glasses, Bollé went around the world and methodically collected anything that was called a comb. He gathered an exceptional collection, most of which is kept today at the Musée du Peigne et de la Plasturgie d’Oyonnax. That is how Robert Bollé came to write this book, and this is how I discovered hair ornaments. This discovery was more than crucial in my young career.

From that moment on, I directed my experimentations primarily on hair ornaments, which offered me a richness in conceptual, aesthetical and technical possibilities. About a year later, during a professional trip to France, I had the great pleasure to visit the Comb Museum in Oyonnax. This was an exceptional event for me.

Following this visit, the Museum curators acquired three of my hair ornaments.

That is how, only a few years after launching myself in comb-making, I had the great honour to enter the collection that had inspired it all…

Of course, I alone cannot claim to revamp sophisticated hair ornaments. Rather, I wish to keep a tradition alive, and to bring a personal interpretation to this mythical accessory. I chose exception and rarity for the love of the material and know-how…

My first hair ornaments experimentations…

Chinese Comb of Gods

By The Creative Museum:

This impressive ivory comb features the eight Chinese Gods from the Dao Temple, home of Taoism. The artist portrayed the immortals crossing the sea. Respectively, they represent incarnations of the Chinese people: male, female, old, young, rich, noble, poor, and humble. Zhang Guolao’s drum can augur life. Lu Dongbin’s sword can subdue evil. Han Xingzi’s flute can cause growth. He Xiangu’s Water Lily can cultivate people through meditation. Tie Guaili’s gourd can help the needy and relieve the distressed. Zhong Liquan’s fan can bring the dead back to life. Cao Guojiu’s jade board can purify the environment. Lan Caihe’s basket of flowers can communicate with gods. All of this wisdom was carved into a comb made for export to the Victorian market, c. 1890.

Three Easy Pieces

These works will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on Dec. 9, 2010.

The barrette is by Cartier, circa 1905. In front, a setting of old European-cut diamonds weighs about 5 carats. Blonde tortoiseshell in back completes the piece. Price estimate: $10,000 – $15,000.

The French made magnificent H combs out of ivory and boxwood during the 15th and 16th centuries. As Medieval painting and music began to express secular themes, so the scenes carved into these combs were about love or decoration, not God. This French Medieval comb is made out of boxwood, has an intricately decorative theme, allows light to shine through it, and is estimated to be worth 6,000 to 8,000 GBP.

Our last piece is a brooch-barrette Louis Comfort Tiffany made for his father’s store, Tiffany & Co, circa 1920. He used 18-karat gold, platinum, set a round black opal in the center, and surrounded it with demantoid (green) and spessartite (orange) garnets. The garnets are accented by sapphires.