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Title: Nathaniel Mathis Collection of Barbering and Beauty Culture

Collection Date(s): 1946-2004, 2010

Extent and Forms of Material: 5.5 cubic feet (18 boxes; audio and video recordings, and 1 oversize folder)

Creator: Mathis, Nathaniel

Abstract: Nathaniel Mathis is a Washington, D.C., hairstylist, inventor, motivational speaker, and entrepreneur. His papers document his business life and community involvement.

Repository: Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 202-633-3270

Collection Number: AC0641

Processing Note: Processed by Mimi Minnick, 1998; revised by Amanda Leinberger, August 2006, supervised by Alison Oswald, archivist.


Physical Access: Researchers must handle unprotected photographs with gloves.

Technical Access:Series 8, Video materials and Series 9, Audiotapes may not be used by researchers unless reference and viewing copies are made available.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use: Copyright held by the Smithsonian Institution. Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use. The Archives Center does not own rights to the patent, trademark or any related interest in the artifacts.

Preferred Citation: [Title and date of item], Nathanial Mathis Collection of Barbering and Beauty Culture, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, box number X, folder number XX, digital file number XXXXXXXX


Administrative/Biographical History:

“Nat Mathis (b. 1946) is a native Washingtonian. He is a man of many talents and measures his success in many ways: innovative hairstylist, entrepreneur, inventor, community activist, motivational speaker and distance runner. Mathis opened his first barber shop in 1969. He is the winner of many national and international hairstyling awards and competitions and was the first African American to win the International Hair Styling competition in Cairo, Egypt in 1981. Mathis was among the first African American hairstylists to embrace and popularize the Afro and, later, cornrows -- hairstyles which many view as expressions of black empowerment. Mathis himself seldom expresses a political ideology of hair, but by 1970, Nat was known among his many satisfied clients and peers as "the Bush Doctor" for his expertise in Afro style and maintenance. He has styled hair for many celebrities; made numerous television appearances; and has been a stylist for several productions at the Kennedy Center, and for two major motion pictures, including Nixon, for which he re-created period hairstyles. He is active in community affairs, gives motivational speeches throughout the Washington, D.C., area, and is particularly interested in mentoring young people. He currently operates a barber shop adjacent to his home in Capitol Heights, Maryland.”

*Biographical information provided by Nat Mathis’s Official Website, “A Man of Many Talents.” (accessed 02 August, 2006).

Scope and Content: The collection documents the work of a hairstylist, inventor, entrepreneur, and public figure whose career reflects significant changes in the African American community in the later 20th century. It is rich in visual imagery created by and for this community. Business papers, correspondence, publicity, photographs, awards and certificates documenting Mathis's work as a highly regarded barber and hairstylist in Washington, D.C., and as member of the D.C. Board of Barbering and Cosmetology are included. Business papers offer insight into the workings of a small privately-owned business. Numerous publicity items and photographs offer evidence of African American style and fashion in New York and Washington, D.C., from the late 1960s through today. Additional material documents Mathis's activities as a community activist, motivational speaker and distance runner. The collection also includes photographs, oral history interviews, and audio-visual materials.

Series 1, Biographical Information and Activities, 1946-2001, 2010, undated

 This series includes all biographical statements, Mathis’s autobiography, high school and college diplomas (including his GED), and other school and religious papers. Also included are advertising and programs for his various community events and motivational speaking engagements. Mathis participated in and sponsored many athletic, religious, community and children’s events, which are documented here. Of note is his autobiography, Portrait of a professional: The Nat the Bush Doctor story as told to Jim Link, published in 1986.

Series 2, Beauty Business Documents and Advertising, 1969-2002, undated

Included in this series are papers related to Mathis’s hair salon and clinic, his patent (United States Design Patent No. 237,022) for a Barber’s Apron, associated marketing materials, and Bush Doctor advertising. Many of the materials are self-produced; both promotional items for customers and advertisements placed in publications such as phone books and newspapers. Documents for his School of Beauty, which ran from 1980 to 1992, include course material, the salon philosophy and the curriculum. His appointment books show the day-to-day life of the Bush Doctor. Also included are events where he appeared as the Bush Doctor.

Series 3, Publicity, 1963-2002

Clippings from newspapers and magazines, as well as entire magazines and newspapers where Mathis was mentioned on the front page. Several magazine covers and fashion spreads were collected because he was responsible for doing the hair of one or more of the models in the photo shoot. He also appeared at many education, trade, fashion, and hair shows, both as a competitor and as a speaker or panel member. Many of the newspapers showcase his inclusion in the Smithsonian collections in 1999 and from his graduation from Prince George’s Community College, Maryland, 2001.

Series 4, Washington, D.C. Barbering and Cosmetology Boards, 1966-1997, undated

 Mathis was appointed to the Examiner’s Board as the chairperson in 1987 by Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., and to the Barbering and Cosmetology Board in 1994, after delivering a personal statement as to why he should be selected. The Board was significant because it was the first to license hair braiders in the country.

Series 5, Correspondence, 1967-2002, undated

 Mathis maintained correspondence from many areas of his life. Topics covered include personal and professional matters, motivational speaking, and applications to appear in hair and trade shows as a competitor and panelist. Correspondents include the International Guest Artist Men’s Hairstylist Association, the Red Cross, the Girl Scout Council, Shoptalk Trade publication, children at the Young School, and many beauty supply companies. He also promoted Soft Sheen beauty products and was a spokesperson for them at various events.

Series 6, Awards and Certificates, 1969-2001, undated

Mathis also received many awards, not only for his barbering skills, but for athletic events and for mentoring and providing support to various community organizations. Included are diplomas and certificates of completion for classes that he took related to barbering. He received medals at competitions such as the Coupe de la Paix in Egypt and the Coupe de l’Europe de le Coiffure in Paris, among others.

Series 7, Photographs, 1966-1989, undated

Photographs are comprised of modern color prints and gelatin developing-out paper (modern black and whites). The photographs document both Mathis’s public and private life, from family snapshots to publicity photographs for his book and his television appearances. Of note are photographs with celebrities, including Muhammed Ali, Danny Glover, Robin Williams, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, George Foreman, Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, and Don King.

Series 8, Video materials, 1983-2002, undated

 Video materials include ½” VHS, DVD and Minidisc formats and document Mathis’s motivational speaking, athletic events, and barber training tapes. He made a promotional tape about his life entitled “From Hair to the Throne,” which is undated but in DVD format. Much of his motivational speaking took place at high schools and colleges in the Washington, D.C. area. There are also interviews by local television stations. Included are notes about the tapes taken by Fath Davis Ruffins, a curator at the National Museum of American History.

Series 9, Audio Tapes, 1998-2004, undated

Fath Davis Ruffins, a curator at the National Museum of American History, recorded several oral history interviews with Mathis around the time the collection was acquired in 1998. These make up the bulk of the audio tape series and range from 1998 to 2004. Also included are tapes from radio appearances, as well as a motivational business tape which showcases Mathis’s vocal talents.

Series 10, Memorabilia, 1992-1998, undated

Included in this collection is the Game of Life (playing pieces, cards, dice) and bags with the Bush Doctor logo on them. Mathis gave gift bags at the 2002 Black History Month convention, which included information about him and his salon, as well as a pick and a hair comb. He also collected political pins and kept many of his name badges and pins from shows and events he attended.

System of Arrangement: Collection is arranged into 10 series:

Series 1, Biographical Information and Activities, 1946-2001, 2010, undated
Series 2, Beauty Business Documents and Advertising, 1969-2002, undated
Series 3, Publicity, 1963-2002
Series 4, Washington, D.C. Barbering and Cosmetology Boards, 1966-1997, undated
Series 5, Correspondence, 1967-2002, undated
Series 6, Awards and Certificates, 1969-2001, undated
Series 7, Photographs, 1966-1989, undated
Series 8, Video materials, 1983-2002, undated
Series 9, Audio Tapes, 1998-2004, undated
Series 10, Memorabilia, 1992-1998, undated

Acquisition Information: Collection donated to the Archives Center, National Museum of American History by Nathaniel Mathis on April 9, 1998.

Accruals: The Archives Center added l.3 cubic feet in 2004; 3 audio cassettes, 1 DVD and 2 mini discs in 2006; and .15 cubic feet of materials related to Mathis' career in barbering in May of 2011.

Related Collections: Mr. Mathis donated three of his patented barbering vests (Accession # 1998.0114) to the Division of Home and Community Life.

Access Points:


African American beauty operators
African American barbers
Barbershops – Equipment and Supplies – 1970-2000 – Washington (D.C)
Beauty Culture
Hairdressing of African Americans – 1970-2000 – Washington (D.C.)
Motivation – Public Speaking – 1970-2000
Public Speaking – 1970-2000


Oral History – 1990-2000
Interviews – 1980-2000
Correspondence – 1970-2000
Photographs – 1950-2000 – Photoprints – Silver gelatin



Revised: March 5, 2012