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Obituaries

Art Dyson, 68; Pioneer in Hair Care

He was president of a major salon chain designed especially for black clients.

March 01, 2004|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Art Dyson, a pioneer in African American hair care who headed the first nationwide hair salon chain that was designed especially for blacks, has died. He was 68.

Dyson died Feb. 15 at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in West Los Angeles after a long illness.

"He was not only a black hair-care pioneer, but an industry visionary," said Lafayette Jones, publisher of Urban Call, a trade publication for inner-city businesses.

Born in Harlem, Dyson was raised on Nantucket Island, Mass., and spent 14 years as a mechanic in the Air Force and later at Lockheed International in Ontario.

In 1969, he decided to switch careers and enrolled in a beauty college in Ontario. He would later recall that, in more than 1,600 hours of classroom instruction, only one hour had been devoted to hair-cutting styles and techniques for African Americans.

After graduation, he went to work for Seligman & Latz, which owned hair salons in department stores across the country, in the firm's salon in May Co. in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles.

According to his daughter, Teri, it was there that he developed the "thermal blow-drying" technique, attaching a nozzle to a drier and blowing hair straight. This was a departure from what had been the standard practice of setting hair with curlers and then having a customer sit under a hood drier. The drying technique gave hair a straighter, softer look.

Teri Dyson, who along with sisters Sheri and Donna operate the Dysonna Hair Salon in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, added that her father also had rejected the use of many of the chemical relaxers that were then on the market because they were harsh on the hair and scalp.

While working at the May Co. salon, Art Dyson developed training programs for styling black hair. His programs attracted existing professionals and those just out of cosmetology school.

By 1975, Dyson's vision for a national chain of hair salons and training facilities for African Americans had come to fruition with the creation of Soul Scissors. He was the first president and chief executive of the Seligman & Latz-owned chain, which expanded rapidly from Oakland to Washington, D.C., and eventually included 55 salons across the country.

"His training program was key to the growth of Soul Scissors," Jones told The Times. "He professionalized the beauty salon for black women."

But by 1980, according to Jones, Dyson had left Soul Scissors over efforts to drop the training segment of the Soul Scissors program. Dyson eventually moved to Washington state and opened a salon in Seattle before returning to Los Angeles in 1985.

He is survived by 10 children, 20 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, a brother and four stepsisters.

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