Skagit Museum explores the unique role of barbershops in local history

“More than just a little off the top” and updated Native American display showcases Skagit county

To know what binds us together as a community is crucial to understanding ourselves. Skagit County Historical Museum has created an exhibit that celebrates Skagit County families and the social outlets that existed for men: Barber shops!

Through showcased memories and photos, Skagit County Historical Museum’s “Barber Historians: More than just a little off the top” exhibit features local men who found refuge while getting their hair done. The exhibit opens with a reception on the 5th, but opens to the public on the 6th of October. It also explores the barber historians of Skagit County, highlighting the important social role that barber shops played in men’s lives.

In addition, “the museum at the top of the hill” in La Conner has also inventoried their Indigenous collection and updated their permanent exhibits.

Jo Wolfe, Director of Skagit County Historical Museum is excited about these two exhibits. “We are being intentional about the history of Skagit Valley, this county’s beautiful and unique history, from the loggers to the farmers and family life of those that have made this area what it is.”

Ed Marlow of Sedro-Woolley, who started cutting hair in 1962, has a huge collection of photos that details the history of his barber shop and the men who came there. These men worked and came home to chores during the week, but on Saturday, it was the women who had social outlets and groups. For men, barber shops filled in the gap.

Roger Fox of Mt. Vernon was a barber from 1947 and later cut hair in his garage until he passed away in 2004. Marlow and Fox were the inspiration behind this exhibit, which reveals that men found a social refuge in their local barber shops.

“Now, other shops are reaching out to us and loaning us their old vintage barber poles or tools for our exhibit,” Wolfe says.

“It’s especially poignant that barber shops from Latinx and African American communities had celebrated their own cultures in their barber shops,” Wolfe says, noting it was one of the few safe spaces where they could talk about everything from political issues to family issues.

Fred Lee at his Mt. Vernon Barbership in 2023. Photo courtesy of Ting-Li Wang.

Fred Lee at his Mt. Vernon Barbership in 2023. Photo courtesy of Ting-Li Wang.

A new mission showcasing tribes from the region

Through the Diversity in Local History Grant Program, we were able to hire Magnolia Telford as a museum intern. Telford is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at the University of Washington School of Museology. Her projects include inventorying the museum’s Native American collection, confirming the objects were Coast Salish, and identifying items that are not Skagit or Coast Salish related,” Wolfe Says.

A major part of the project was to revitalize the permanent Native American exhibits. Telford worked with local tribal officials to make sure we are telling their story. “We want to make sure we are telling the stories of the Skagit history and we work hard to do that. We were honored to have Kevin Paul, Dean Dan and Tony Cladoosby from the Swinomish Tribal community bless the new exhibit spaces,” Wolfe says.

“Remember: What is happening today is history tomorrow.”

Visit the Skagit County Historical Museum Thursdays to Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 501 South 4th, La Conner. Learn more online at skagitcounty.net/museum or call 360-466-3365.

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