The Beautiful Work of Her Hands


by Katrina Spencer

Kristal Farmer Grady can do it all. Locs, weaves, bantu knots, wigs, cornrows, relaxer, protective styles, twistouts, braidouts, color, trim. “You name it!” as gospel icon Shirley Caesar once famously said. Following 15 years of wide ranging work experience and training with Hair Cuttery, there is little left on this veteran hairstylist’s coiffure bucket list. For just over five years now she has been offering her services at Ebony Images at Seminole Court where her clients book her services through Style Seat. There she and five other stylists rent chairs where clients can get a short pixie cut like Halle Berry’s classic look, tapered close at the neck, or get locs installed, tightened, or reddened like songstress Halle Bailey of 2023’s The Little Mermaid. If you ask Kristal what her favorite styling technique is, she doesn’t hesitate: it’s color. She loves to apply vibrant hues to her clients’ tresses and acknowledges that in her profession, “It is not an option to be less than perfect.” She takes a great deal of pride in her work, deftly managing heat, dyes, synthetic materials– truly “the whole 9.” Her least favorite style? Any individual microbraids, which consume a good deal of time and leave her and customers with little to talk about after the 8-hour sessions the style requires.

This Virginian grew up in Louisa with a mother who was a minister and a father who was a taxicab driver for over 30 years. With her mother’s vocation, it was not uncommon for Kristal to spend three or four nights a week in church. It was then that Kristal was first handed a comb to keep her busy throughout the many Baptist services. She got much practice, too, being a barber to her five brothers. While at least six years of her education were directed through homeschooling, by the time she was formally training at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center for her license in cosmetology, she had already delved deep into a diverse body of experimentation. Her clients today come in all colors and include men, women, and children. With all she’s done and seen, she has some clear preferences about useful products and reliable tools that help her to manage her craft. Peep these tips: best brand of loc twisting gel? Bellatique. Fantastic flat irons? Go with Baby Bliss. Scalp stimulator? Rosemary mint oil is the way to go.

Some of Kristal’s skills can only be won with time. For example, in a service position like her own, she has learned to read the energy of a broad spectrum of people and can engage most anyone. As with every hairstylist, a few burns, nicks, and cuts along the way are part of her story, too, a natural job hazard for someone who relies on her hands– but nothing serious enough to turn her off from the calling that she loves. Kristal’s goal now is to whittle her services down to a smaller subset, likely in service to the natural hair community, which has been burgeoning over the past 15 years. Many clients are choosing to avoid certain styles that require harsh chemical processing of the hair, and stylists are taking heed, expanding their repertoires further to create styles like Lupita N’yongo’s and Letitia Wright’s in Black Panther and Wakanda Forever, Issa Rae’s in Insecure, and Tracee Ellis Ross’ on almost every red carpet she graces. The famous folks and others, too, are getting to know their curl patterns and embracing what their roots produce naturally.


One of Kristal Farmer Grady’s paintings

While Kristal’s work is as likely to be featured in a hairshow run by University of Virginia students or out of town in weddings amidst couples sharing their vows, the work of her hands is versatile enough to go beyond hair and scalps, razors and scissors, creams and balms. She loves to create in all forms and along with her husband, Larry Grady, the rapper known as “Legend tha God,”, the two have created Grade-A Kont3nt, an artistic pairing that works with a variety of materials– resins, acrylic, fabric, styrofoam, oils, putty, rope, and more– to produce arresting works that can adorn your home, office, and/or other spaces of your choosing. The mixed media provide indefinite possibilities for products that are both decorative and practical for use. Kristal and Larry’s work has been featured at the Jefferson School for African American Heritage Center and sold at local craft fairs at IX Park. No matter the medium, Kristal will be conjuring up something new for us to admire. To find her in action, visit Ebony Images at 153 Seminole Court in Charlottesville; book an appointment through Style Seat; follow Grade-A Kont3nt on Facebook; or call 434-227-3138 for a consultation on the next hairstyle you want, or the craft you want to commission!

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Vinegar Hill Magazine is a space that is designed to support and project a more inclusive social narrative, to promote entrepreneurship, and to be a beacon for art, culture, and politics in Central Virginia.


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