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Catalog Data

Human hair, wire, thread, velvet, fabric
.001: 3 1/2 × 1 1/2 in. (8.9 × 3.8 cm)
.002: 3 1/2 × 1 1/2 in. (8.9 × 3.8 cm)
.003: 3 1/2 × 1 1/2 in. (8.9 × 3.8 cm)
Hair art
ca. 1850
Victorian (1837-1901)
Hair work in the form of a floral garland in three sections. It was made with varying shades of human hair woven into floral shapes with wire and probably a stiffening chemical. The pieces are tied into bundles wrapped with fabric. Hair wreaths required much more hair to complete a design than an item of jewelry would. Because of this, large hair designs are often a composite made from hair contributed from the members of a family, church congregation, school, or other associations. Wreaths made from family groups often acted as a family tree or gave a family history of who had passed and in what order.
Label Text:
Hair work was created both professionally and by ladies in the home and was very popular from the late 1700s through most of 1800s. During the Victorian era, hair was highly prized. Women put much of their grooming energies into their hair: growing it long and keeping well cared for. Many women collected their own hair lost daily from their hairbrushes either for hair work or to make hair styling accessories for themselves. Furthermore, in the case of famous, or infamous, individuals, hair was actually sought after as a souvenir. Engaged and married couples exchanged hair as a token of their eternal love, and girls often exchanged locks of hair with their closest friends. Like love, hair is lasting, and it survived the individual when they were gone, whether separated by distance or death. Because of the romantic nature of hair as an intensely personal memento and its enduring qualities, hair work was seen as the embodiment of bond between individuals, their love entwined. It was also extremely popular in mourning paraphernalia because of its connotations as a token of deep affection and a relic that allowed a piece of the missing individual to stay present.
In the 1860s, hair work became an extremely popular home craft, and young ladies were encouraged to learn this art for themselves. Furthermore, homemade hair art was preferred, as sending off hair to be made into a wreath or item of jewelry by a company often resulted in many unscrupulous vendors supplying premade items made with hair from an unknown source. In addition to selling prefabricated items made of hair, merchants also sold patterns to follow, kits, and additional hair in a variety of colors that might be needed to complete a design. By following directions printed in magazines and booklets, hair was fashioned into flowers and leaves by twisting, braiding, and sewing it around shaped wire forms using tabletop and palette production methods. Horse hair was sometimes woven into pieces to provide stability or texture because it was coarse and strong, and this could be purchased or collected from one’s own stables. These wreaths were often placed in shadow boxes or under glass domes and displayed in the parlor. Hair work fell out of fashion towards the end of the nineteenth century. Many felt that it was old-fashioned compared with the new interior decorations, and its sentimental meaning came to be seen as morbid and vulgar.
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Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
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Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens