From the Head to the Heart: The Sentimentality of Hair Art

This week’s object is a sculpture of a floral bouquet made almost entirely out of human hair. Although we might see it as bizarre today, hair art was very popular in the 19th century. Nowadays, we view hair that is no longer on our heads with certain distaste. When we find hair of unknown origin lying around we cringe and if we were to happen upon a lock of hair carefully stored away, we would probably be filled with a feeling of creepiness and chills. Surprisingly, hair has not always been viewed in this way. In fact, it once held a very dear and lovely position in cultures around the world.

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For centuries, hair has been used as a sentimental symbol of love and devotion. The practice of exchanging a lock of hair with a loved one or a dear friend has appeared in many cultures around the world in one form or another. Hair has also been used in the mourning process. People would often cut off a piece of hair from a deceased family member and keep it as a memento. You might be wondering why hair was chosen to be used for these purposes. Hair doesn’t decay for a very long while, a few centuries at least, and it often remains looking like it did the day it was taken from its owners head for years after as well. Therefore, hair is the perfect enduring symbol for remembrance.

The practice of using hair in art dates back to as early as the 12th century. During the middle ages, people would take hair that they saved from a deceased relative or friend and weave it into pieces of jewelry such as rings and brooches so that they could always wear the token of remembrance with them. During the 19th century, however, hair art really took off.  People during the Victorian Era were very sentimental. Mourning rituals became a common practice due to the tragic deaths of soldiers during the Civil War and the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, in 1861. Mourning clothing became staples of mainstream fashion and sentimental practices having to do with the commemoration of death, such as hair art, increased in popularity.

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At the same time hair art evolved into a popular pastime among middle and high class women. Women would get ideas and patterns from magazines and books to make their own creations. They created the traditional jewelry, but many also created floral wreaths and bouquets that could then be displayed in their homes. To create these floral arrangements, they would often take hair from different family members, both living and deceased, and weave them together into one art piece. This symbolized family unity and the bond that all of the members shared. They would sometimes leave room to expand the arrangement for when their family grew.

This example of hair art that we have in our collection certainly seems to be an example of a nostalgic homemade creation. It is of an unknown date, but we do know that it was owned by Mrs. John LeFevre Deyo who lived from 1823 to 1911. We do not know for sure if she created it herself, but it was displayed in her parlor, so there is a good chance that she is the artist. We also do not know if the hair used was taken from specific family members, but the care and detail present in the intricate fashioning of each flower and stem shows that this piece was clearly dear to whoever made it.

Sources:
Hudson, Rachel “On Display: A Curious Art” Historic Huguenot Street. www.hhscollections.wordpress.com. 8 October, 2014. Web.
Luke, Walter “The Lost Art of Sentimental Hairwork” www.victoriangothic.org. 4 February, 2012. Web.
Palka, Lindsey  “Victorian Hair Art and Mourning Traditions.” www.thetoast.net. 25 July 2016. Web.
“History of Hair Art.” www.leilashairmuseum.net. Accessed 17 November 2016. Web.

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