Museum Monday: Vintage Hair “Afro Pick” Warmer Hot Comb and Gas Burner at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Museum Monday is a weekly series where the museum of the month will highlight a different artifact from their collection.

Vintage hair afro pick warmer hot comb and gas burner
This Vintage Hair “Afro Pick” warmer hot comb and gas burner is part of the Velvatex College of Beauty Culture collection. Photo courtesy of Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Velvatex College of Beauty Culture, Inc., was established in 1926 and incorporated on July 1, 1929 by founder and president Mrs. M.E. Patterson, originally as Velvatex Beauty College. Patterson dubbed the school “Velvatex” because she believed African American hair emulated the feel of velvet. The school was founded after Patterson chose to teach others the skills of the trade in a more formal educational setting and to help men and women become entrepreneurs.

Velvatex’s system was Little Rock’s only approved school for people of color. Class colors were gold and purple and the motto was Fideli Certa Mercisy — “the reward of the faith is certain.”

In the college’s earlier years, it was located on State Street near Philander Smith College. Advertisements listed the address as 1004 State St. In this location, it was a short distance away from West 9th Street, the center of the city’s Black community, known for its Black-owned businesses.

Velvatex Beauty College in Little Rock
Courtesy: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Velvatex opened at its current location on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Little Rock in the mid-1950s. The theater, YMCA, nightclubs, churches and schools surrounded the college. In one Times article, current Velvatex owner Barbara Douglas said, “You couldn’t come in with a spot on your shoes. You had white uniforms, white shoes. Your blouse had to be three-quarters; it couldn’t be down to your wrist. You couldn’t wear short sleeves. Your top had to come down over your hips. You just had to look like a lady.”

Courses at Velvatex have covered subjects like shop deportment, salesmanship and anatomy as part of the 1,500 hours students are to complete to earn a cosmetology license. An instructor’s license is also offered at the school.

In fall 2018, the college partnered with the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center’s exhibit titled Don’t Touch My Hair, which included items from Velvatex such as styled wigs, pressing combs, vintage textbooks and a vintage manicurist’s table. This hot comb and burner was used to straighten women’s hair by putting the comb into the opening at the top of the burner to heat it. Once hot, the comb was used to straighten the hair with the intense heat, causing curls to flatten and make hair more manageable for the popular styles of the day.


Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
Photo courtesy of Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

The mission of the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is to preserve, interpret and celebrate African American history and culture in Arkansas. The museum’s exhibits highlight fraternal organizations and African American entrepreneurs, as well as integration. Admission is free and MTCC is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. MTCC is located at 501 W. Ninth Street in Little Rock.

Curtis Smith
Curtis Smith

Curtis Smith is a historic anthropologist graduating from UALR in spring 2022. He is originally from Northwest Arkansas, but relocated to Little Rock in 2013. Smith is now the assistant registrar at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.