MSV lecture will debut colonial wig

Posted: November 9, 2013

Star staff report

This wig was stored in a lead-lined box in the Glen Burnie House and is a barrister wig of the type typically worn in English courts during the 18th century.
This wig, in the collection at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, still has its original label, as well as an authentic signature in iron gall ink — “J Wood Esq.”

Winchester — Staff members from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will discuss the art of colonial wig-making (and demonstrate techniques recently learned through the study of a rare wig owned by the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley) at 1 p.m. today.

During this event, the MSV will present the wig — which dates to the 1700s — for the first time.

In 2009, Colonial Williamsburg wig-making experts traveled to the MSV to examine a wig that was stored in a lead-lined box in the Glen Burnie House, according to MSV Executive Director Dana Hand Evans,

Master wigmaker Elizabeth Myers, a national expert on the subject of colonial wigs, discovered that the MSV headpiece was a barrister wig of the type typically worn in English courts during the 18th century.

Her subsequent research suggests that Winchester founder James Wood and/or his son, James Wood Jr. likely wore the wig.

James Wood was first clerk of the court of Frederick County from 1743 until his death in 1759, while his son James (1741–1813) served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and was the 10th governor of Virginia from 1796 to 1799.

The wig has its original label, as well as an authentic signature in iron gall ink — “J Wood Esq.”

The wig is evidence that elaborate headpieces were worn in Virginia in the 1700s, said Myers. It proves that barrister wigs were worn in America, contradicting a long-held belief by many historians that colonial Americans did not wear such wigs, she said.

In 2010, the MSV lent the James Wood wig to Colonial Williamsburg for extensive study; in exchange, CW wigmakers agreed to make and give a reproduction of the wig to the MSV for use in its educational programming.

Colonial Williamsburg also intends to construct a reproduction of the wig for its own interpretive purposes in the CW Wig Shop.

Over the next two years, a team of CW staff members studied the wig, which for the first time allowed them to observe the results of wig-making techniques about which they had previously only read or seen images in primary documentation.

The study included analysis and authentication of the wig in the textile conservation laboratory at the Bruton Heights School Education Complex at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

At today’s event, five CW staff members, all involved in the study of the wig, will discuss its materials and other findings and demonstrate the techniques that produced it. These include hair-weaving, frizzing, construction of the wig’s elaborate “tail” and the engraving process involved in the wig’s label.

Also during this program, Colonial Williamsburg staff will formally present the MSV with its reproduction of the wig. Those attending the lecture will be able to compare the reproduction to the original wig, which the MSV will publicly present for the first time at this program.

Following today’s program, the authentic wig will be placed on short-term exhibition in the Museum’s Shenandoah Valley Gallery.

Admission to Saturday’s program is $5 for members and children 12 and under. The cost is $10 for others (includes gallery admission). Tickets to the program will be available at the Visitor Information Desk beginning at 10 a.m.

theMSV.org