Jen Cruse: Combs from the Miller Comb Museum

The three combs shown here each carry an important provenance – that of the Miller Comb Museum in Homer, Alaska, and date to the first quarter of the 20th century. They are featured in my book on page 79 (published in 2007) and have since come into my collection.

For me they are most interesting as this exquisite, smooth colour of turquoise celluloid (sometimes sky blue) is uniquely of US origin and quite unusual in the European market and in fact probably not used by European manufacturers at that time – dense bright green yes, and the solid colours of red and black.

The colours of the combs perfectly set off the clear paste-stone settings and gold decoration while their imaginative designs demonstrate a truly artistic flair by an inspired craftsman. As with the majority of combs, however, they are not marked or stamped with any identifying name.

For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and Jen’s book:

The Comb: Its History and Development
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Bandeaux in The Great Gatsby and Downton Abbey

It was a time when no one thought the party would end. The First World War was over, women had gotten the vote, cars replaced horses, Chanel threw away the corset, hemlines rose, and white people discovered jazz.

To bob or not to bob, that was the question. Opera singer Mary Garden said, “I did it because I wanted to. I found it easier to take care of. I felt freer without long, entangling tresses. It typified a progressive step, in keeping with the inner spirit that animates my whole existence.”

Women with bobbed haircuts wore bandeaux across their foreheads, as their short curls underneath completed the look. The jewels were small, making a lightweight headdress that also liberated women from the heavy, large-jeweled, complex tiaras of the 19th Century.

Some women wore them just above their bangs, as in this example of Carey Mulligan wearing a bandeau Tiffany & Co. designed for the 2013 movie version of The Great Gatsby.

Here is the bandeau itself. There is a detachable brooch decorating the side, while ribbons attach it to the hair style.

Alexandre de Paris made a Gatsby-inspired bandeau in acrylics and rhinestones as part of its Christmas collection.

Coco Chanel, of course, designed something original: diamond bangs as a bandeau for women whose bob haircuts didn’t include them. This is the original piece from her famous 1932 jewelry collection, which she presented in her Paris apartment,

…and here is a dress she designed in 1927, which would look fabulous with it.

Seeing this combination moves my thoughts to Lady Rose MacClare of Downton Abbey.
In her bandeaux and Chanel-inspired dresses, she encapsulates the colossal vitality of unlimited expectations.

Here she is in Season 4 wearing the dress for her coming out ball. Accompanying it is a bandeau edged by two aquamarines and a feathered headdress.

I am glad the world had this fleeting decade of happiness in between the two World Wars, with its style and elation eternally preserved.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these items:

Chanel and Her World

Art Deco Hair: Hairstyles of the 1920s and 1930s

Tiffany’s 20th Century: A Portrait of American Style

The Great Gatsby

Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Complete Seasons 1, 2, & 3 DVD Set (Original U.K. Edition)

Downton Abbey “Gilded Age Boxed” Gold-Tone Edwardian Statement Center Baguette Pendant Necklace, 16″
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Hairdressing as Language: Exhibit at the Musée Dapper

The Musée Dapper in Paris was realized by the efforts of the Olfert Dapper Foundation. Dapper was a Dutch historian whose most famous book, Description of Africa (1688), wove geography, economics, politics, medicine, social life and customs. Free of ethnocentric judgments, it remains an indispensable resource for historians.

The museum’s current exhibition, “Initiés, Bassin du Congo,” features 100 works that explore the link between hairdressing in traditional African societies and initiation rites, such as birth, adolescence, marriage, and death. Jean- Paul Notué writes the exhibition catalog, “A hairstyle is an act of socialization and metamorphosis that permits a person to relay their history, social rank, and cultural identity.”

The works on display are architectural, strong, and iconic — an expression of tribal identities that have endured war, political upheaval, and commercialism. You can see many of the museum’s headdresses in this video.

This dramatic headdress belongs to the Lega People, one of the ethnic groups of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The cap was made from fibers of human hair, with a shell decoration in the middle, and buttons decorating the front and strap.

This crest mask is from the Ejagham tribe of Northern Cameroon. Made of one piece of wood, the mask also uses untanned antelope skin, straw, and pigments. It is dated 1928 and was borrowed from the State Museum for Ethnology in Munich.

There is also an installation by contemporary German-Kenyan artist Ingrid Mwangi, who says, “Our own soul immediately plunges the viewer into the heart of the matter: the meaningful content of the hairstyle.”


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:

Ethnic Jewellery and Adornment

African Masks: From the Barbier-Mueller Collection

Powerful Headdresses: Africa and Asia
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Kristopher Leinen

During the Industrial Age, artists rebelled against machine-produced products by hand-crafting exquisite works of art. Today, computer aided design (CAD) is a primary force in industrial production.

However, instead of rebelling, Kristopher Leinen uses Texas Tech’s School of Art CAD-based software to serve his artistic inspirations. He combines technology and hand crafting to create award-winning jewelry.

His “Garden of Eden” hair comb won the 2012 Niche Award in the Student Sculpture to Wear category. The Tree of Knowledge is made from sterling and argentium silver, 14k white and yellow gold, garnets, rubies, and diamonds.

“The comb is worn on the crown of the head as if reaching towards the heavens… This piece was created to empower the wearer… Simultaneously, it is meant to remind the viewer of the lure of temptation,” said Leinen.

Another comb in Leinen’s collection is “Up-Rooted.” It was also made in 2012, using Argentium silver, 18k gold, cocobolo (a tropical hardwood), acrylic, tsavorite garnets, white diamonds, and blue diamonds.

Leinen believes one has to balance concept and craftsmanship in order to give a piece of jewelry its unique voice. “I don’t know if anybody ever achieves it intentionally and purposefully and locks in on it, but through growth and time, I am starting to develop my own language and a way that my pieces can speak for themselves,” he said.

I think his language and the balance in his jewelry is extraordinary. As brooches can also be worn as hair ornaments, I will end this presentation of Leinen’s work with a piece made in 2010, “Fruit-Flower Brooch.” Materials: Brazilian kingwood, pink ivory wood, sterling silver, 14k gold, copper, and brass.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and these books:

Inspired Jewelry

The Sourcebook of Contemporary Jewelry Design

Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective
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Stanley Hill, Sr., and Seneca Iroquois Combs

By Kajetan Fiedorowicz

Many contemporary tribal artists reach to their nations’ historical sources for inspiration, which provides for a certain continuation of tradition. However, they do not always admit that reference. This makes the process of “joining stylistic dots” much harder, but not impossible.

The comb presented below, carved c. 1977 by Stanley Hill, Sr., (Mohawk Clan) is an interesting and competently executed interpretation of an ancient Seneca Iroquois antler comb that dates back to the late 1600s.

This crudely carved and incised comb depicts two wolves, clan symbol of the Wolf Clan. They stay on the roof of a cosmic longhouse that symbolizes the political structure of the Iroquois Confederacy. Within the longhouse, three human figures squat in a so-called “hocker” position, which many women in traditional societies assume when giving birth. However, these figures most probably represent the three eldest brothers (Cayuga, Oneida and Tuscarora) of the Iroquois Confederacy, representing the Seneca, Onondaga and Mohawk nations.

Here are two other effigy-related examples from the The Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection, which resides at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

The first depicts two wolves facing each other without other imagery, and dates c. 1660 – 1675.

The second is a Seneca Horse Effigy Comb, made c. 1670 – 1687 from moose or elk antler. It was found in the 1930s at the Ganondagan State Historic Site, also known as Boughton Hill, in the town of Victor, Ontario County, New York. The museum speculates that the comb’s image of the single horse may relate to the introduction of European horses in Seneca country in the late 1600s. This seminal event turned many tribes into horse cultures.

An excellent piece was found buried with a Seneca shaman woman during the construction of an upscale neighborhood in Toronto. It dates from the late 1600s when the area was the Iroquois city of Teiaiagon (crosses the stream), a land with a river of dangerous rapids. On the comb, engraved lines connect three shapes, or characters — Mishipescheu (a water lynx with the tail of a rattlesnake), a bear, and the shaman. The themes are continuity of man and spirit, and protection.

Last is a comb from my own collection to close this story for today.

An exciting and mysterious World of Combs…


For more scholarly research, please see our Resource Library and examine these books:

The Iroquois Trail: Dickon among the Onondagas and Senecas

The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca

An Address, Delivered Before the Was-ah Ho-de-no-son-ne or New Confederacy of the Iroquois Also, Genundewah, a Poem
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Jen Cruse: Stratton Combs

In 1920, the English company of Jarrett, Rainsford & Laughton Ltd resulted from a merger of two smaller companies, each manufacturing items of inexpensive jewellery and haberdashery goods. However, Stratton Ltd was already owned by Laughtons at the time of the merger and the new company retained the Stratton name for their Fancy Metal Department.

From 1923, part-finished powder boxes were imported from the USA for assembly and decoration until the early 1930s when the company set up its own compact and lipstick case manufacturing plant. By 1939 Strattons were so successful that they were responsible for producing about 50% of these items made for the British cosmetic industry. The factory was destroyed in 1940 and production was not resumed until after the war, in new premises and with newly designed machinery.

Expansion in the 1950s saw the introduction of matching sets of ladies’ handbag accessories, including such items as compacts, lipstick holders, folding cased combs, pill boxes and cigarettes cases. Unfortunately there are few surviving records of the early 1950s; the first extant advertisement for a folding cased comb is dated 1955, which probably coincides with the introduction of their cased comb range.

The combs were injection moulded from either cellulose acetate or nylon and all products carried the familiar logo ‘Stratton Made in England’. The introduction of the ‘trigger’ comb around 1960 provided an easy mechanism by which the comb sprung from its case, not dissimilar from the ‘flick knife’ principle.

By the 1960s there were Stratton agents worldwide and new designs kept pace with changing fashions. However, comb production slowly declined and by the end of the 1980s cased combs no longer featured in the Stratton catalogues. Both compacts and folding combs were out of fashion. The last folding combs appeared in the US catalogues for 1987-88 and in the British catalogues for 1988-89. The company was finally sold in 1997.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and

The Comb: Its History and Development
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Comb at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The description the museum gives is

  • Date: 1700 – 1938
  • Culture: American or European
  • Medium: Bone.

In 1705, Tsar Peter the Great wanted to rid Russia of its technological backwardness and import Western style and ideas. He looked to France and founded St. Petersburg by the Neva River, east of the Gulf of Finland because he understood the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea. Trade became plentiful. This established St. Petersburg as more a part of Europe than the rest of Russia.

This comb looks like it was hand carved from clarified horn that came from a horse’s hoof, a popular material in Germany.

The comb was probably made in the 19th Century, both stylistically (Russian Coat of Arms) and by this inscription: C.I.38.23.476. In Russian, C.I. means I.D. Together with the number, it is most probably a proof of the comb’s presence in some sort of Russian museum or collection.

It is very difficult to believe this comb could have been made in America, or after 1917.

I don’t understand the Metropolitan Museum’s description. I will ask them. Comments welcome.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library and

Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court

The Comb: Its History and Development

Russian Elegance: Country & City Fashion from the 15th to the Early 20th Century
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Carving Cat: What is America to me?

BarbaraAnne, “National boundaries change. What happens when you are left behind? What happens when your people have inhabited a land for 9000 years, and others who conquered it less than 200 years ago call them foreigners? As a native son, how do you become an artist, make beauty out of alienation, and find your identity?

One Pomo Indian / Mexican Indian man made this comb:

after living through this:”

Coming “Out” as a Native American (And possibly “Mexican-American”) artist: by Carving Cat

For the early part of my life, “race” defined quite a lot of the boundaries of my world. When you grow up poor AND brown, for some people in the US, that’s a double sin. In their minds (perhaps), it’s not enough that you are a “Foreigner”, but that you would additionally have the audacity to also be one of the poor, huddled masses.

I had been told many times, even as a child, to “Go back to where you came from” and “You people ruin this country.” Except where I “Came From” is California. Where my mother comes from is California. And so on, back 9,000 years.

And on my father”s side? Michigan. And my father’s father? Texas. His father? Texas. And my great grandfather? Texas. And before that, the area where they are from (El Paso, Texas) was part of Mexico.

My mother (Being full Native Pomo) had always told me that “We” were the “Real Americans,” and that everyone ELSE should “go back to where THEY came from.”

Which sounded (As a child especially) even worse to me, since I had known what it felt like to not be wanted, even by people whose parents had come to the US, perhaps even just 70 years ago…

On my father’s side, they were as American as flower tortillas, which is in fact VERY American these days, considering that one can purchase some kind of “wrap” anywhere.

My father’s people had lived as farmers in what was then a province of Mexico. Not as land owners, but as “dig in the hard dirt with your bare hands” farmers. My grandfather was quite Spanish-looking. My grandmother was a small, compact woman who was very much the “Mexican Indian.” She was as dark as polished wood, with strong, sinewy muscles. She had held her large family together through war, alcoholism, gambling, and racism.

My father was born in the 1940s in Michigan, where his parents were living (Working) at the time. It’s quite possible that my grandfather was working in one of the steel foundries there, since his next move involved going to California to work in another steel foundry.

In terms of character, it’s quite hard to place my father. As I remember him, he was strong, smart, grumpy and extremely kind (He could usually keep his grumpiness to himself…), very close to nature.

He had grown up in an age of the “great melting pot”, where “immigrants” were expected to drop their culture and language, in preference of creating a unified, “American” culture. My father had grown up speaking Spanish in the home and outside of the home. It was forbidden (I believe) to speak it by my grand parents.

My father was the epitome of the “God-fearing American.” He honestly believed that America was the greatest nation in the history of the world, where fair play and family values took precedence over anything else. A place where all men were equal (Yes, men…), people worked hard, and to be anything else was patently un-American. He had very much of a love-it-or-leave-it attitude.

Tragically, his ideals failed to work out for him because he didn’t “look” American, even though he wasn’t an immigrant, nor the child of immigrants. America moved over HIS ancestors.

What does an American look like? In all of my travels over more than a decade, the answer is “White” or possibly “Black.”

My father grew up in an era where people would routinely be persecuted for the simple fact of being the “wrong” color, in the “wrong” place. I now suspect that the root of my father’s American Nationalism came from his early treatment by people who regarded him as a “foreigner”, purely on the basis of his skin color. It could even be possible that he faced “racism” at the hands of Mexican-born Latinos, for not being a “real” Mexican, as I had later on.

I believe this treatment engendered in him, his later anti-Immigrant sentiment. I can only suspect this, for I never got the chance to talk about this subject with my father before he died.

He believed that everyone in the US should speak only English, that people needed to melt in or go back, and he was especially hostile to illegal Mexican immigrants even though he spoke perfect Spanish himself. At the start of the Vietnam war, my father was quick to join the Air Force and be sent off to Vietnam, something that haunted him for the rest of his life.

My mother was born in California, to a Pomo mother, and I suspect a Pomo father. Very early on, she had been adopted. For the next 25 years, she would know that she was “different” (Being Native-looking) but not knowing her tribe, her past.

She told me that she had been adopted by a very kind Italian-American man and his a not-so-kind wife.

After her turbulent childhood, she had managed to track her mother down and learn about her Pomo ancestry, some of her background before being put into adoption and so on. Sadly, this never turned into a proper relationship because of my biological grandmother’s mental illness and hostility towards my mother.

Growing up with such a difficult past and perhaps even facing discrimination for her appearance (Big, “Indian” and “mean looking” would be a proper description I believe, much to the pleasure of my mother…), she naturally gravitated toward other Natives and sadly fell into the crowd where alcohol and drug use were commonplace. It’s a long subject, but take it on my word that Natives lack the ability to process alcohol properly, leading them to alcoholism more easily than other groups.

My mother had always taught me that “We” were the “real” Americans and even from an early age, it left a bad taste in my mouth. We spent much time (Whenever we were living in Oakland California) at the Intertribal Friendship House, a community center that helps to organize events for Native Americans in the Bay Area and helps to address social and medical issues that especially plague the Native population, such as alcoholism, abuse, homelessness and drug use.

Skipping ahead…

As a teenager, I had been turned off of “Choosing sides” by the rampant racism and nationalism and just pure stupidity I had seen, both within my family and outside.

I just wanted to be me: an artist, a person and someone who loved the natural world. Could I be called a “Native American or Pomo” artist? Had my tenuous connections to my tribe affected my art? Was my handcrafting genetic?

I had seen some of the amazing Pomo baskets and artifacts at the Oakland Museum and knew that probably, one of my relatives had made them, somewhere near Clear Lake or Santa Rosa, California.

Even at a young age, I had known. Did their patterns influence my art?

As a “Latino” or “Mexican American”, was I influenced by the ever-present Mexican culture in the Western States?

I didn”t even speak Spanish and wasn”t a “Real” Mexican, according to some classmates who WERE culturally “Mexican American.” At that point, I had resolved to drop these “racial” and “cultural” connections, to just be an “Artist”, without these kinds of add-ons.

It wasn’t shame that had led me to that point, but pure exasperation. I had been treated like a foreigner all of my life at that point so I didn’t much care about the “American” label. I also hadn’t been particularly involved with the “Mexican” part of my genetic heritage. The only culture I HAD been welcome into was the “Native” culture.

At various points I had been involved with social organizations of Natives, including the “Native American Youth Council,” through the Intertribal Friendship House.

No, I’ve never lived with other Pomos, crafted with them or learned “our” traditional ways. Am I a “Native American” artist? Or “Mexican American” artist? Or even an “American” artist?

It’s not for me to say. I will leave it to others. For now, I will just make art and be an “artist.”


For more scholarly research, please examine

Smoke Signals

Pomo Indians of California and Their Neighbors

From Indians to Chicanos: The Dynamics of Mexican-American Culture
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Carving Cat: Mammoth Ivory Hair Comb for Sale

On offer is the first Art Comb I’ve made, from a rather unique material.

First, the design motif: I wanted to create a unique design style with organic flow, as my work would incorporate only so-called ‘organic’ materials and gemstones.

The center jewel is abalone. However, the most prominent material in this comb is mammoth ivory. The piece I carved comes from the bottom of the North Sea in the Netherlands.

Twelve thousand years ago the sea between what is now the Netherlands and England was a gigantic grassland. Many mammoth and other Ice Age animals lived and died there. Beachcombers and fishermen discovered them when they dredged the sea depths and accidentally pulled out the unusual, fantastic remains of mammoths and other animals.

This particular piece of mammoth ivory dates to around 60,000 years of age, judging by the material conditions and the hardness of the ivory. Using hand tools almost exclusively, I carefully crafted the comb in my ‘Atlantis’ design style, over 3 months of extended work.

Usable mammoth ivory from the North Sea is much scarcer than usable material from the more ‘common’ Siberian mammoth, perhaps on a scale of hundreds of kilograms of Siberian material per each usable kilogram of North Sea mammoth ivory.

Resting in the mineral-rich clays at the bottom of the North Sea, the North Sea mammoth ivory absorbs minerals and displays spectacular colors and patterns. This comb is unique in being the only finely carved Mammoth Ivory art comb on the market. There are some other, modern combs from China that, sadly, are crudely made.

I created this comb in my unique style, using an extremely rare piece of North Sea mammoth ivory, so I hope it will find a special place in the heart of whomever will own it.


Price: $500
Shipping: Free
I will be handling the entire transaction.
Serious Inquiries may be sent to

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Lluís Masriera and Modernisme in Catalonia

Art Nouveau’s main ingredients were the Symbolists, who believed that art should reflect the truth indirectly as if in a dream; the flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints; and Japanese organic forms and representations of nature.

Out came the curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau, which lasted only 20 years (1890-1910). In different countries, the movement had different names. Jugendstil in Germany, Stile Liberty in Italy, Arte Joven in Spain, and Modernisme in Catalonia.

The pioneer of Modernisme in Catalonia was Lluís Masriera.

In Geneva, he studied enamelwork with Frank-Édouard Lossier. On his second visit to Paris in 1900, he attended the Exposition Universelle and saw the jewels of Lalique. Lalique’s technical skills in plique-à-jour and basse-taille enameling, and the way his jewelry integrated engineering and design into a Symbolist idea, were an epiphany for Masriera.

Exposition Universelle de 1900, Paris. Les lampadaires du pont Alexandre-III et la rue des Nations.

Upon returning to Barcelona, he closed his shop, melted down all his stock, and started again. Opening a week before Christmas in 1901, the designs at Masriera Hermanos, 35 Carrer de Ferran, were ready. The shelves were empty within a week. Masriera became world famous.

He was even commissioned to make a tiara for Queen Victoria Eugenia of Spain in 1906 as a wedding gift from the people of Catalonia.

It is called the tiara desaparecido, as no one knows where it is. The tiara was made of diamonds and pearls in a gold frame with multi-color plique-a-jour enamel. On the bottom are two fleurs-de-lys, symbolizing the House of Bourbon. Continuing the heraldic theme, a horse forcené is placed next to each fleur on the band. Between the band and the tiara’s top gallery is the flag of Catalonia.

Two Masriera hair comb masterpieces from 1902 are this blonde tortoiseshell, diamond, enamel and gold hair comb, with trees in cast and chased gold, set in an enamelled landscape,

and this comb at the Schmuckmuseum in Pforzheim, which also depicts a landscape scene. It is made of gold, tortoiseshell, diamonds, sapphires, and enamel.

Another comb from this period was shown at the Van Gogh Museum’s “Barcelona 1900” exhibit in Amsterdam, which ran from September 2007 to January 2008.

This pair of blonde tortoiseshell hair pins with sculpted gold and diamond decoration were attributed to Masriera, c. 1902. They sold for €1,500 in Barcelona, 2012.

Lluís Masriera made only two tiaras. In this one, c. 1901-1910, he used yellow gold and platinum, set with 513 old-cut diamond brilliants, which had an approximate total weight of 12,5 carats. The wings of the birds were decorated with plique-à-jour enamel and set with two important diamonds of approximately 1.20 carats each. The piece is in the possession of Aardewerk jewelers, with certificate of authenticity by Bagués-Masriera, and registered in the workshops book no 2 and under reference nr 1336.


For more scholarly research, please examine our Resource Library, this rare book, and these items:

MASRIERA Jewellery 200 Years of History

Masriera / Masriera Deco 2007 [Jewelry Catalog]

The Comb: Its History and Development
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