Saturday’s Event to Show Rare MSV Wig for the First Time

Winchester, VA., 11/07/13…In what promises to be a fascinating presentation at 1 p.m. this Saturday, November 9, at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV), staff from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CW), Williamsburg, Virginia, will discuss the art of colonial wig-making and demonstrate techniques recently learned through study of a rare wig owned by the MSV. During this event, the MSV will present this wig, which dates to the 1700s, for the first time.

According to MSV Executive Director Dana Hand Evans, 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. To her astonishment, CW Master Wigmaker Elizabeth Myers, an acknowledged 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 eighteenth century. Her subsequent research suggests that Winchester founder James Wood (d. 1759) and/or his son, James Wood Jr. (1741–1813) likely wore the wig. James Wood was first Clerk of 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 tenth governor of Virginia from 1796 to 1799. 

The MSV wig still has its original label, as well as an authentic signature in iron gall ink, “J Wood Esq.” According to wigmaker Myers, the MSV wig is evidence that elaborate headpieces were worn in Virginia in the 1700s. In fact, she says, 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.

In 2010, the MSV loaned 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 its use in 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, an entire team of CW staff 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 this Saturday’s event in the MSV, five CW staff members, all involved in the extensive 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 Saturday’s program, the authentic wig will go on short-term exhibition in the Museum’s Shenandoah Valley Gallery.

Admission to Saturday’s program is $5 for MSV Members and ages 12 and under. The cost is $10 for all others (includes gallery admission). Tickets to the program will be available at the MSV Visitor Information Desk beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday. Those who plan to attend the program are encouraged to arrive early, as the event is expected to attract a capacity audience.

The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is located at 901 Amherst Street in Winchester, Virginia. The MSV complex—which includes galleries, the Glen Burnie House, and six acres of gardens—is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The galleries are open year-round, the gardens are open April through October. Admission to the MSV is $10 and $8 for youth and seniors. Admission is always free to MSV Members and children age 12 and under. Closed for the season, the gardens will not be open on Saturday. The Glen Burnie House is closed until spring of 2014 for a preservation project. Additional information is available at or by calling 540-662-1473, ext. 235.