Quick post: a bit of stage makeup history

A few months ago I was perusing an auction site and came across this interesting-looking makeup case.  As it turns out, it belonged to Hanna Rovina (1888-1980), a.k.a. the "first lady of Israeli theatre". 
Hanna Rovina makeup case
(image from liveauctioneers.com)
Originally a kindergarten teacher, in 1917 Rovina left her teaching job to pursue acting, becoming a founding member of a Hebrew theater group in Moscow that later became Habimah, the national theatre of Israel and the first professional Hebrew theater in the world. She became a leading actress after her breakout role as Leah in An-ski’s The Dybbuk in 1922. Rovina was soon renowned in the international theater community due to impressive performances that ranged from Hebrew productions to Shakespeare and classical plays across Europe and the U.S. Her stage makeup was fittingly dramatic, keeping with the style of the time. Historian Raphael Patai describes the "masklike" look Rovina used for the role of Leah in the 1920s. "Her face was powdered or painted chalk white, her black wig hugged her head and face, her eyes were framed with thin black lines, and the areas between her eyes and her thinly penciled-in black eyebrows, and even more so between the eyes and the ridge of her nose, were painted almost black...the only color livening up this somber black-and-white appearance was her mouth, painted blood-red in the form of a narrow double bow that is familiar to those who still remember the heroines of the early silent Hollywood films."

Hanna Rovina as Leah in The Dybbuk, 1920s
(image from haaretz.com)
Her theatrical cosmetic style changed slightly from role to role, as seen in this 1955 photo of Rovina portraying Medea.

Hanna Rovina as Medea, 1955
(image from picclick.fr)


Love this shot of her dressing table, probably taken in the 1960s. There's a red jar on the far right that looks like it could be Leichner, but that seems unlikely. Beyond that, embarrassingly, I can't make out any of the items.

Hanna Rovina dressing room
(image from wikipedia.org)
So why am I posting about Rovina and her makeup case today? Well, on this day in 1956, Rovina was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for her contributions to Israeli theatre. As for the makeup case, judging from Rovina's dramatic stage looks and her dressing table, I can only imagine what treasures it holds! Too bad the keys to the locks are missing. But despite bidders not being able to see the contents - or even IF there was anything inside - the case sold at auction for $750, far exceeding the original sale estimate of $150-$200. I can only hope whoever the new owner is figures out a way to open it and publicly share what's in there, even if it turns out to be empty.
Hanna Rovina makeup case
Had you ever heard of Hannah Rovina? What are your best guesses as to what's inside her makeup case? And if anyone can identify the items on her dressing table I'd love to know!

Curator's Corner, March 2021

Curator's cornerLate links as usual...I get so frustrated at not being able to stick to even the most basic of schedules. But as I'm demanding more of the Museum these days it's hard to keep up.  ;)

- The Curator's favorite publication turned 30 this month, and I was so pleased to add a copy of their very first issue to the Museum's collection a while back. For some reason though they started celebrating back in February, but I'm including a link to their 30th anniversary content anyway.

- The beauty industry has a renewed focus on fighting racism against the AAPI community, which is long overdue. 

-Beauty enthusiasts have been making this argument for ages, but it's always worth repeating.

- The U.S.'s ever-shrinking middle class is still buying beauty products, but their habits are different now. One word: masstige.

- On the one hand, it's good that this website is available for domestic violence victims; on the other hand, as with roofie-detecting nail polish, I feel like it shouldn't exist.

- I'm baffled as to why Hourglass's new vegan red lipstick getting so much buzz, considering that there's no shortage of vegan red lipsticks on the market. Obviously, not killing insects to make lipstick is a good thing, but I'm not sure what the breakthrough is here.

- Also not wowed by the removal of the word "normal" from Unilever's products. I understand shifting language is necessary for social change, but "normal" when referring to skin type isn't really offensive or exclusionary despite the company's market research. ("Normal" hair type and body weight...now those are different stories.) Thank goodness for r/skincareaddiction telling it like it is.

Astrology-themed beauty is still going strong, perhaps even more so due to the pandemic.

- Sad that I missed this oh so spicy collab before it sold out for the second year in a row.

The random:

In 90s nostalgia, HBO will feature a documentary on actress Brittany Murphy (Clueless, Girl Interrupted) and Netflix has released a documentary on the last Blockbuster video store (the irony). Also, while it doesn't take place in the '90s, Moxie is apparently brimming with Riot Grrrl vibes. I need to see it, obviously!

- How adorable is this mini art gallery?

- I enjoyed this article on the work of fashion illustrator Marcel Vertes, who also created ads for a number of perfumes and cosmetics.

- If you ask me, mermaidcore is always trending.

How did March treat you?  Generally speaking I hate it so I was glad to see it go. Here's to longer days and warm weather!

Speed reviews: makeup history reads

In an effort to condense a few posts I'm doing some quick reviews of recent additions to the Museum's library. Hopefully they'll be of use...I mean, they can't be any worse than my usual long-form reviews, right?

Up first is historian Cheryl Woodruff-Brooks's biography of Sara Spencer Washington, who established the Apex News and Hair Company in 1919. Over the years the company expanded to include 11 Apex Beauty Colleges in the U.S. (including one right here in Baltimore - more on that later!) and abroad, Apex Laboratories to manufacture hair care, cosmetics and even household goods, and Apex News, which produced publications for her estheticians and sales agents. The Apex empire, as it came to be known, employed roughly 45,000 sales agents at its peak. Madame Washington wasn’t just a savvy entrepreneur; she regularly gave back to the Black community by offering scholarships to Apex schools, establishing a golf course that welcomed people of all races and economic status, and even founded a nursing home, Apex Rest.  Golden Beauty Boss: The Story of Madame Sara Spencer-Washington and the Apex Empire is relatively short but incredibly informative.  I can only imagine how many hours the author spent digging through various archives.

Golden Beauty Boss by Cheryl Woodruff-Brooks

Quality research and an intriguing story about one of the most successful Black entrepreneurs in history is a must-have for well, anyone! You can buy it here.

Next we have Howard Melton's and Michael Mont's American Compacts of the Art Deco Era: The Art of Elgin American, J.M. Fisher, and Others. This isn't a collector's guide; it's more along the lines of Jean-Marie Martin Hattemberg's tomes on powder boxes and lipsticks in that there are many images of beautiful objects to drool over with some wonderful history along the way. It also includes a good amount of ads, which are very helpful in identifying compacts - of course, you can also see some Elgin compact catalogs over at the Elgin History Museum archives

American Compacts of the Art Deco Era

American Compacts of the Art Deco Era

What I love about American Compacts is that it focuses on the compacts of a particular era and country so it's not overwhelming, yet still provides useful information throughout. The story of Elgin's Bird in Hand compact is a particularly great highlight.  Overall, American Compacts is a necessity for the vintage makeup collector or anyone with an interest in Art Deco design. As for purchasing, you remember my interview with Andra of Lady-A Antiques, right? Well, she's offering this book at a reduced price at her store, so be sure to buy it there!

Moving along, I read Color Stories: Behind the Scenes of America's Billion Dollar Beauty Industry by journalist Mary Lisa Gavenas. It's a bit dated at this point since it was published in 2002, but still a good read as it provides a very fascinating behind-the-scenes, soup-to-nuts description of how makeup color stories were selected and marketed each season during the 1990s and early 2000s - essentially a full, unbiased story of the process. 

Color Stories by Mary Lisa Gavenas

It's very useful for anyone looking for cosmetic marketing history as well as '90s makeup history (ahem), but I think it would also be interesting for fashion or business historians more generally.  I would dearly love to see an update for the age of social media, Millennials/Gen Z'ers and the increased demand for diversity and inclusion among beauty consumers. So much has changed in 20 years!

Next up is another drool-worthy book I found on ebay. It's in Japanese so I can't actually read any of the text, but the photos are more than worth it. You'll find lots of vintage Shiseido and other Japanese brands along with a sprinkling of Western lines such as L.T. Piver packaged for the Japanese market. While powder boxes, skincare and perfume comprise most of the objects, there's also personal hygiene products like deodorant and tooth powder.

Japanese labels and packaging book

Japanese labels and packaging book

If you love vintage powder boxes, vintage design and typography, or Japanese culture in general, this belongs on your book shelf. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for an English version so I can read the history behind some of the brands that are covered.

Finally, there's Lucky Lips: Stories About Lipstick, written by René Koch (a.k.a. the founder of the Lipstick Museum.) When I purchased the book I mistakenly thought it had English text alongside the German. Oops. Still, it's a nice supplement to Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg's Lips of Luxury as it contains different vintage lipsticks, some of which I hadn't seen before.

Lucky Lips book by Rene Koch

Lucky Lips book by Rene Koch

I wish I could compare the information offered in both books, but at the very least I can tell that Lucky Lips has some tips on lipstick application and 20th century lipstick history organized by decade. Overall, it's good to have on hand and a quality addition to the vintage makeup collector's library, especially if you can read German. (I've said this before, but if I could have any superpower it would be fluency in all languages within a matter of minutes.) If you had to choose between this one and Lips of Luxury, however, I'd go with the latter as it's a bit more extensive.

Are you interested in any of these? What books, beauty-related or otherwise, have you finished recently?