The Barber Shop Series
By Schroeder Cherry Ed.D., guest blogger
As an artist, I typically work in series. This allows me to select an idea or theme and explore different ways of expressing it visually. The Barber Shop Series began in summer of 2018 on a dare. I was in the gym locker room shaving my head with a razor when a guy approached and jokingly asked, “What do you know about shaving heads?” My response: “I shave my head every other day. Who are you?” The guy told me he owned a barber shop; I asked to drop by and make some sketches of him at work. Mr. Ray’s Barber Shop became the first site of inspiration for the Barber Shop Series.
It is worth noting that barber shops are not spaces where I have spent a lot of time, so this project meant crossing into unfamiliar territory. Entering a neighborhood barber shop is stepping into a very communal space. The barbers know their clients and clients are often familiar with each other, if only visually. A newcomer is instantly spotted at the door. After three visits to the shop, I was no longer a stranger. The head barber casually included me in the shop conversation as I made images and took photos. In exchange for a portrait sketch, clients let me photograph them while they sat in the barber chairs. Using a phone camera allowed me to shoot without being too intrusive (it seems everyone is connected to a phone). Back in my studio I made portrait sketches from the camera images, and sent them to clients electronically. Photographs were also used as references to compose paintings. The camera catches far more details quicker than I can by sketching on site.
To date visits with ten shops in Maryland and Washington, D.C., have inspired 65 paintings. There is a progression in the way materials are handled, as well as in the way I approach barber shop visits. Politely asking to dumpster dive in trash cans has yielded art making treasures. Discarded razors, clippers, brushes, combs, keys and Lotto tickets have become elements of the series. These objects are embedded and sewn into wood. I have also learned to slow down taking images in the shops, while being alert to capture fleeting shots.
In addition to visiting barber shops, I have been reading about the history of barbers. More images are fueled by background stories, such as how black men became professional groomers in colonial America. At the time, white men of means wanted to emulate European aristocracy, so they allowed black men to shave them, cut their hair, and groom their wigs. Barbers were called “waiting men.” They eventually became the arbiters of style and considered themselves “knights of the razor.”
Works from the Barber Shop Series have appeared in solo and group exhibits in Baltimore, Bowie, and Washington, D.C. Sites include the 2019 Sondheim Exhibition at Walters Art Museum; Catalyst Gallery; Creative Alliance; Function Co-Working Gallery; Hamilton Arts Collective; Huntington Gallery; Washington Arts Club; and Baltimore City Hall, where the Mayor recently honored barbers as “Pillars of the Community.” For seven days last summer Barber Shop images were illuminated on Baltimore’s LED Art Billboard, across from Penn Train Station.
Portraying intimate settings of barber shops, using mixed media and objects on wood, is an ongoing interest. When asked how many paintings will be in the series, I have no answer. I am going with the flow.
Cutting Along The Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, by Quincey T. Mills.
Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom, by Douglas Walter Bristol. Jr.
MAEA would like to thank Schroeder Cherry for contributing this blog post and allowing us to include his photographs of his work.