Getting Myself into a Hairy Situation

By Rachel Hudson

This week’s object is this strange little book we have displayed in the case in the Deyo Hall meeting room. This object seemed unassuming when we first found it in collections. We certainly did not expect this worn paper writing book to contain something like locks of human hair, decoratively woven into patterns of hearts and wreaths. This is a classic example of women’s parlor crafts during the 1800s. Sentimentality and a woman’s duty to her home are combined in this craft, which showcases both her skill as an artisan and her connection to friends and family.

hair book3

hair book1

Origins of Hairworking

This craft originated in Europe where hair jewelry was used as mourning objects. It later caught on in the United States as Europeans brought their culture to the country. The Civil War also created a need for remembering those who leave with a more physical connection in the form of a clipping of hair. The onset of the Industrial Revolution created a distinct need for people to reconnect with objects that were handmade and not mass produced. No matter how much of the setting was machine made, the decorative hair element had to be woven by hand. This created a contrast between the sentimentality middle class women wanted to showcase, and the consumerism that came with mass produced objects that flooded the market during the Industrial Revolution.

hair book2

Hair Album by Naomi C. Freer

Hair albums like this would have been a major domestic craft for middle class women in the middle to late 1800s. Magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book and Peterson’s Magazine promoted the work, and even provided instructions to make objects like these as well as techniques for hair jewelry as well. This particular book was created by Naomi C. Freer and contains names and hair clippings from members of her family and friends. Included in this book is her husband, Lewis H. Deyo, her mother and father, Matilda and Andrew Freer, her mother- and father-in-law, Dinah and Hiram Deyo, along with some of her brothers and sisters, Alice and Thomas. In a time when staying in contact with loved ones was often difficult with a slow mailing system and limited travel opportunities, hair albums became a memento of the missed person. These types of objects were no longer meant to represent mourning, but a desire to connect with the living. It was a clear rejection of the usual mass produced items that would have been on the market at that time, and a way for people to stay connected, even when they were physically separated.

Here’s a preview of next week’s object:

teaser photo

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One thought on “Getting Myself into a Hairy Situation

  1. Andrew Freer was my maternal great-great grandfather. So interesting to see my ancestors’ hair. I will visit Huguenot Street one day.

    Best,
    Lisa Prosch

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