As Madison’s oldest African-American barbershop, Style & Grace was an important place on Madison’s South Side for the community to congregate 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 vibrant life and business of the beloved South Madison barbershop that had been a 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 take place Thursday, Nov. 3, 6-8 p.m. at the UW South Madison Partnership Space, 2238 S. Park Street.
Friend remembers pursuing her Ph.D. in art/film/video in 2006 and the “Style & Grace” documentary was actually her Ph.D. thesis.
“I spent every Saturday at Style & Grace for four years. I would just show up and hang out for eight hours,” Friend tells Madison365. “I made it into a day in the life of a barbershop which is really hard over four years and with different seasons out the window and people changing and aging and wearing different clothes. It was a big puzzle and a big challenge.
“I shot 1,500 photos and I put 30 of them unframed in the show and I had my Ph.D. exhibit at Style & Grace and the guys got their haircut right in the middle of it,” she adds. “It was really fun. I taped up my pictures on the mirrors and I bought a DVD player and it was playing in their little waiting area and all the professors came down to see it and it was a nice mixture of people.”
Style & Grace, located at 1610 Gilson Street, was the city’s oldest Black barbershop, starting in 1954.
Kevin Walters is the chair of the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation’s Community Education Committee, which was created in 2020 to help broaden the diversity and inclusion efforts of the Madison Trust, one of the hosts of Thursday’s film screening.
“One of my committee members knew Linda [Friend] and knew about this documentary and the Style & Grace barbershop is listed on a survey report that the city of Madison put out to identify historic places that speak to the histories of underrepresented groups,” Walters tells Madison365. “The building where Style & Grace was located was identified as a building that could potentially be protected for historic preservation. And so that’s kind of what got it on our radar.”
When Walters watched Friend’s documentary, he realized that it was just an amazing story that could connect with the South Madison community and that people should know more about it.
“Particularly, we wanted to keep in mind those who attended Style & Grace and those who are part of its legacy like the barbers that were trained there or trained by the barbers that used to work at Style & Grace,” Walters says. “We wanted to make sure that they had a chance to see the documentary and remember that place and talk about it. We conceived the screening as kind of like a film premiere.”
Friend’s “Style & Grace” documentary actually premiered at the Wisconsin Film Festival back in 2011.
“That was sort of like the world premiere, but we’re thinking of this as a new premiere to the film. Nobody’s seen the film in about 10 years,” Walters says. “So we said let’s get started with the folks who are closest to Style and Grace, the ones that we most want to see this and let’s be careful about finding a place that’s in South Madison and inviting those who were connected to it and remember Style and Grace when it existed. Let’s have a special screening for them so they can come and talk about it.”
Walters adds that it really worked out perfectly to host the event at the UW South Madison Partnership Space.
“The [UW] Odyssey Project class is based out of the South Madison Partnership Space, and what really ended up working out well is that the Odyssey Project class on sociology is being held that night and we’re going to show this screening 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 little bit smaller and focused on a particular community that we want to make sure sees the film and then we’re hoping that that will generate enough interest so that people can watch the film online and maybe host screenings on their own,” Walters adds. “That’s kind of the idea that we’re going for.”
Walters adds that they have made it a priority to work through how to make an organization like Madison Trust for Historic Preservation more representative of all of Madison.
“A lot of the historic places in the South Madison community weren’t preserved the way that they should have been,” he says. “And that’s a different challenge for an organization like ours to think through like, ‘Okay, how do we make sure that we’re not just assuming that South Madison needs the same preservation strategy that other places do?’ Let’s listen to the people in the community.”
Thursday’s film screening at UW South Madison Partnership Space will have refreshments from Melly Mel’s Soul Food Restaurant. There will be a chance to discuss the film following the screening.
Friend was there as Style and Grace as the legendary barbershop was winding down and she says she cherishes that time.
“I’m really grateful that I did it right when I did it because then shortly after about a year after it, I think it was maybe it closed,” she says. “Smitty had died and then Mr. [Clarence] Brown, who I still am in contact with, started having all these health problems, so he just closed it. I’m really glad I did it when I did it before it was gone.
“This place had such a strength to it,’ she continued. “I saw guys would come right out of prison and try to hook up with a job and I saw moms dropping off kids to be babysat there while they ran down to the grocery store up the street. And Mr. Smitty was giving out advice to these young men all the time, and it was just a real community center with a lot of joy in it and a lot of strength in it.
“And I don’t think we get that. We don’t see these places very often. So I’m really grateful that I found out about Style & Grace. I made a lot of friends there, too. So I was just grateful for the whole experience.”
The screening for “Style & Grace” will take place Thursday, Nov. 3, 6-8 p.m. at the UW South Madison Partnership Space, 2238 S. Park Street. To RSVP, click here.