“This place had such strength.” Film screening spotlights Style & Grace, a beloved and historic South Madison hair salon

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As Madison’s oldest African-American hair salon, Style & Grace was an important South Side Madison location for the community to gather and a South Madison landmark.

Filmmaker Linda Friend’s documentary about the shop, also called “Style & Grace”, captures many of the great moments and the dynamic life and business of the beloved South Madison barbershop that was the cornerstone of a neighborhood for many generations. A screening of the film, co-hosted by PBS Wisconsin and the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, will be held Thursday, November 3, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the UW South Madison Partnership Space, 2238 S. Park Street.

Friend remembers pursuing his doctorate. in art/film/video in 2006 and the documentary “Style & Grace” was actually his doctorate. thesis.

“I spent every Saturday at Style & Grace for four years. I would just show up and hang out for eight hours,” Friend told Madison365. “I made it a day in the life of a hair salon. which is really difficult over four years and with different seasons on the window and people changing and aging and wearing different clothes, it was a big puzzle and a big challenge.

“I took 1,500 photos and put 30 unframed in the exhibit and I had my Ph.D. exhibit at Style & Grace and the guys got their hair cut right in the middle,” adds- she said. “It was really fun. I taped my pictures to the mirrors and bought a DVD player and it was playing in their little waiting room and all the teachers came down to see it and it was a good mix of people.

Clarence Brown (left) and Taylor “Smitty” Smith at their iconic South Madison barbershop.
(Photo by Linda Friend)

Style & Grace, located at 1610 Gilson Street, was the city’s oldest black barbershop, starting in 1954.

Kevin Walters is the chair of the Community Education Committee of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, which was established in 2020 to help expand the diversity and inclusion efforts of the Madison Trust, one of the hosts of the film screening of Thursday.

“One of my committee members knew Linda [Friend] and was aware of this documentary and the Style & Grace barber shop is listed in an investigative report the City of Madison released to identify historic places that speak to the history of underrepresented groups,” said Walters at Madison365. “The building where Style & Grace was located has been identified as a building that could potentially be protected for historic preservation. And that’s kind of what put him on our radar.

When Walters watched the Friend documentary, he realized it was just an amazing story that could connect with the South Madison community and people should know more about it.

“In particular, we wanted to keep in mind those who attended Style & Grace and those who are part of its heritage, such as barbers who were trained there or trained by barbers who previously worked at Style & Grace,” says Walters. “We wanted to make sure they had a chance to see the documentary, remember this place and talk about it. We designed the screening as a sort of film premiere.

Friend’s documentary “Style & Grace” premiered at the Wisconsin Film Festival in 2011.

“It was kind of like the world premiere, but we think of it as a new movie premiere. No one has seen the movie for about 10 years,” Walters says. “So we said let’s start with the most close to Style and Grace, the ones we want to see the most and are careful to find a place in South Madison and invite those who were connected there and remember Style and Grace when she existed. Let’s have a special screening for them so they can come and talk about it.

Mr Smitty, 90, plays checkers today with the children of Boys & Girls Club Erick & Kavon
(Photo by Linda Friend)

Walters adds that it worked perfectly to host the event at the UW South Madison partnership space.

“The [UW] The Odyssey Project class is based out of the South Madison Partnership Space, and what worked really well is that the Odyssey Project sociology class is happening that night and we’re going to show that projection as part of that class ,” he says. “We thought that was the perfect alignment with what we want to do.

“We want the in-person event to be a bit smaller and focused on a particular community that we want to make sure they see the film, and then hopefully that will generate enough interest that people can watch the film. online and maybe host screenings on their own,” adds Walters. “That’s kind of the idea we’re looking for.”

Walters adds that they have made it a priority to work on how to make an organization like Madison Trust for Historic Preservation more representative of all of Madison.

“A lot of historic places in the South Madison community haven’t been preserved the way they should have been,” he says. “And it’s a different challenge for an organization like ours to think like, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that we don’t just assume that South Madison needs the same preservation strategy as other places?’ Let’s listen to people in the community.

Thursday’s screening of the film at UW South Madison Partnership Space will feature refreshments from Melly Mel’s Soul Food restaurant. There will be a chance to discuss the film after the screening.

Friend was there as Style and Grace as the legendary barber shop wrapped up and she says she cherishes that era.

“I’m really grateful that I did it right when I did it, because soon after about a year later, I think maybe it was closed,” she says. “Smitty was dead, then Mr. [Clarence] Brown, who I’m still in contact with, started having all these health issues, so he just shut it down. I’m really glad I did when I did before he disappeared.

“That place had such strength,” she continued. “I’ve seen guys come out of jail and try to find work and I’ve seen mothers drop off kids to babysit while they run to the grocery store up the street. And Mr. Smitty was giving advice to these young men all the time, and it was just a real community center with a lot of joy and a lot of strength.

“And I don’t think we understand that. We don’t see these places very often. So I’m really grateful to have discovered Style & Grace. I also made a lot of friends there. So I was just grateful for the whole experience.

The screening of “Style & Grace” will take place Thursday, November 3 from 6-8 p.m. at the UW South Madison Partnership Space, 2238 S. Park Street. To RSVP, click here.

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