Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Collections Spotlight: Hair Wreath

Today's entry is written by Museum Assistant Megan Churchwell, who leaves us on Friday to attend museum school in Seattle. Thanks, Megan, and best wishes!

One of the most unusual pieces we have here in the Bush House Museum is a beautiful handcrafted wreath made of human hair. This unique Victorian tradition is an example of the ladies’ crafts done to occupy their leisure time, which was plentiful.

Most Victorian hair crafts took the form of small jewelry items. Pins or bracelets would be made from a family member’s hair as a sign of mourning. These are the most well-known forms of hair art, because Queen Victoria is known to have worn a piece of jewelry made with her husband Prince Albert’s hair every day after his death in 1861. She held great influence over the fashions of this time, and this type of mourning jewelry remained popular through the end of the nineteenth century.

Other examples of hair art would be made of hair saved from the woman’s own hairbrush in a special dresser jar. Our example, a large wreath, is said to incorporate the hair of over 20 of the artist’s relatives, and was created in 1870. Many of these wreaths featured the hair of a recently deceased relative in the center of the horseshoe-shaped wreath for a mourning period lasting up to a year before their hair flower would be moved to become part of the large wreath.

Though most hair art was made as a sign of mourning, they were also made for sentimental reasons. At the same time hair art became popular, young girls were known to have scrapbooks containing their schoolmates’ hair with a name and verse to identify whose hair it was. Sometimes locks of hair would be glued into postcards or valentines and sent as a keepsake.

This lost art is surprisingly beautiful. If you haven’t been to the Bush House Museum to see our example of hair art, it is well worth an up-close look.