By Christa Lawler
Adeline Wright led her first public protest when she was in seventh grade. The reason: the Gulf War; The inspiration: her friend Sheila’s father had just been deployed. Wright spread the details via word-of-mouth. And then, on the designated day and at the designated time, the students walked out of the school en masse.
Well, everyone but Wright.
“I had to sit in the principal’s office and explain why it was so important,” she recalled during a fall visit to Adeline, Inc., the stylist-small business owner’s salon in Duluth’s East Hillside — a space that clearly indicates that organizing a walk-out wasn’t the passing fancy of a preteen. There are signs in the window: Black Lives Matter. All Are Welcome Here. The local candidates Wright favored in the past election. Inside there is a photograph of U. S. senator Bernie Sanders and a painting of a vulva. Wright has had at least one person walk through the front door, settle into the waiting area, consider the spread of magazines fanned on the coffee table — on this day it’s Staid, Mother Earth Living, Naturally, Bust, Yes, Thrive and the New Yorker — and leave.
“They keep the wrong riff raff out and the right riff raff in,” Wright said.
The right riff-raff: “People who are loving and kind and have a mutual respect,” she said.
This is Wright: She champions the leaders she wants in office and she protests the things that she sees as injustices. She’s organized salon-style community conversations and was behind Jefferson People’s House — a place billed as a cafe, toast emporium, incubator.
“People either think I’m doing good things or I’m a self-righteous ass,” Wright said.
When asked which is the truth, she responded: “I think I’m a little of both.”
Adeline, Inc., is also filled with local art by Patricia Canelake, Alison Aune, and Liz Pawlik. The soundtrack is the B52s, Queen, The Cure, Depeche Mode. There are vintage hair dryers that double as furniture and a dollhouse in the corner — a draw to neighborhood kids.
Old dressers, glamour mirrors, mismatched chairs.
First Wright worked out of a space at Greysolon Plaza and later at the Building for Women. She has also rented chairs at other salons and still, sometimes during social gatherings, one might find her cutting the hair of various party-goers.
For a while she was splitting time between the Twin Cities and Duluth — which was no biggie for her regulars.
“I followed her to the cities and I followed her back,” said Claire Rafferty of Bemidji, who heard Wright did creative and unusual things with hair.
Now Wright is here-here. She just signed a 5-year lease and has big plans for a mural on the back wall of the shop.
Kristina Dexter, salon coordinator, was hand-picked by Wright for the partnership. They knew each other from the local scene and Wright describes her as a kindred spirit.
“It’s amazing,” Dexter said of life at the salon. “I get to hang out with really rad people. And the fact that we’re doing it together — I’m working extra hard because I know she relies on me. We’re a small team working toward a common goal. There is a significant difference working in a female environment versus not. I feel supported.
(Wright) is people over profit. We made this decision so we can keep doing this for each other and keep living our best lives.”
One Friday morning, Christine Kunze sat on an oversized couch with big pillows, draped in a purple cape, her hair slicked back mid-color (though she prefers to call the service “glossing”).
Kunze and her daughter Haddie, 14, live in Grand Marais and both have been making regular appointments with Wright since the latter was 18 months old.
“And her favorite book was ‘Pat the Bunny’ and she was in a pink onesie,” Wright recalled, tending to Haddie’s signature short hair.
Kunze said she’s always ready for an experience at the shop. One time there was a singer performing. Politicians have dropped in. Then there was the sex therapist.
“I never know who’s going to walk through the door,” she said.
Kunze favors a look that is conservatively funky, or funky conservative, she said.
“I think a lot of people assume I do a lot of wild (haircuts),” Wright said, adding that she thinks it is based on her own eccentricities. “My preference is natural-looking classic cuts with a twist.”
Recently, when a woman came in off the street with a poster about a Young Farmers Association Fundraiser. Wright took the poster and invited her to a women’s group at her home.
Then: “You going dancing tonight at Blush?” she asked.
This life — and the client list that has hit about 1,100 — suits Wright, who described it as making art and “hanging out with (my) buds.”
“I think I have been fortunate to have such a strong personality,” she said. “When I try to conform to a certain way, it’s catastrophic. I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve and gone through painful public things.
“I always wanted to be a wallflower, but it didn’t really work out.”