Things are getting hairy at the Valentine with Beard Wars

Rebecca Frankel
Contributing writer

Photographer Terry Brown examines her prints to ensure they’re ready to be shown. Photo by Brooke Marsh

When looking at old photos from the Civil War, how do historians tell the difference between Union and Confederate soldiers? Sure, usually the uniform is a dead giveaway, but another tell-tale sign is what kind of facial hair they sported. According to RVA Beard League member Wes McQuillen, Union soldiers tended to have partial beards, and very neatly groomed facial hair, while Confederate soldiers had wild, overgrown beards. This highly influenced which kind of soldier Beard League members were matched with for a new exhibit at The Valentine.

To pay homage to the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War, The Valentine has teamed up with Terry Brown Photography and the RVA Beard League to create a quirky exhibit. Members of the RVA Beard League got to pick a Civil War general that sported similar facial hair and they were photographed in matching poses by Terry Brown. The exhibit will display these photos of the Beard League members alongside their general with some information on the generals for viewers to read.

“We wanted to do something different,” said Domenick Casuccio, spokesperson for The Valentine. “I think it is an interesting take on history. I think history, especially the Civil War, can get a little heavy sometimes, so you get to learn about the generals in a fun and interesting way. We also got to tell the Beard League’s story.”

The RVA Beard League doesn’t just compete in the Mid-Atlantic Beard and ’Stache Championships, but they give back to the community as well. According to their website, they clean roads, volunteer with the Special Olympics, help out the Autism Society of Central Virginia, Habitat For Humanity and more.

“(It’s been great) just learning about those guys and how they’re not just into their beards, they actually share this sense of community and they do a lot of volunteering,” said Terry Brown, the photographer. “That’s their main connection, it’s not just the visual thing that they share.”

Beard Wars is, in a way, an extension of a previous project of Brown’s that she did with Mangini Studio in which she took headshots of fellow photographer Gordon Stettinius over the course of eight years.

“He would change his hairstyle, grow a beard, shave, shave his head, braids, cornrows (or a) mullet, and I would shoot a headshot of him as if this person had come to a studio and needed a headshot,” Brown said. “This almost seems to be a continuation of that project in a way.”

According to Casuccio, Beard Wars doesn’t only highlight the Civil War, but it is also showing how trends have come full circle.

“What I get out of Richmond culture, and I’ve lived here since 2005, it tends to be this kind of friendly but surly individualism and self-determination,” said McQuillen.

According to several members, what the Beard League guys really want people to get out of the Beard Wars exhibit is to have fun, get a slice of history and enjoy some impressive beards.

Beard Wars opens Thursday, March 26 at 6 p.m. and runs until November. The Valentine is located at 1015 E. Clay Street.

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