…is another man’s watchband. I know a few people who are big into genealogy and lineage research, and I always think of them when I think about Victorian hair art. The subject fascinates and baffles me. It makes me wanna give it a try. It kinda grosses me out a little sometimes.
But just a little bit.
For people in the Civil War and Victorian eras, jewelry made from hair was a way of both mourning and celebrating the lives of their departed loved-ones. In addition to having hairwork commissioned after a person was deceased, many people gave living friends and relatives gifts of jewelry made from their own hair as testament to their bond, or possibly even as an invitation to romance.
The bracelet here was made by contemporary hair artist Lucy Cadwallader, who says it best by noting that this type of ornament was “one of the most personal pieces of jewelry one could bestow upon another. Hair provided an intimate connection between the deceased and the living.”
She also noted on her website that “Upon the death of her beloved Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria was consumed with grief. She mandated that only mourning jewelry and hair jewelry be worn at court. With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, the popularity of hair jewelry grew. Women would wear lockets and brooches with locks of their husband’s hair. Soldiers would often carry with them a watch chain made from their loved one’s hair, close to their heart.”
Works of hair art can be two-dimensional or three-dimensional, and there are also many fine examples of “painted” works. It is my understanding that the painted works used a type of paint/ink which was made by grinding up the hair and creating a paste, which often turned out to be sepia in color. The artists then used this “paint” to create a tiny scene to be encased in the glass of a locket or brooch. Predominantly, the colors used in the artwork are the natural colors of the hair itself. The bouquet of flowers pictured here is the work of hair artist Sandra Johnson, who often creates pieces using the hair of several family members to achieve shading and different coloration. She also designs mementos using using cat/dog fur for pet lovers. Some hair artists use horse hair as their medium of choice.
There is a visually rich site about Victorian Hair and its styles/practices, from which I learned about history and hair receivers. I searched for more information about this intriguing object, and came up with another great site about these “secret beauty aides of the past”, which are basically decorative containers for holding your hairballs. Quoted from the site: “While some say that hair saved in receivers was also used for hair jewelry, love tokens, and mourning mementos, Lori Verge, curator of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, states those items required straight, not tangled hair. She believes that women used cut hair (rather than combed out hair) for those purposes.” The hair receiver here was found on Alma’s Attic Antiques & Collectibles, which also has a brief passage about these curious vanity-top accessories. I particularly like this example here, because it’s not too flowery and froo-froo-looking. Unlike many examples that I’ve seen, it has bold colors and is simple yet feminine.
(In my searches for information on hair receivers, I keep typing “hair receptacles” by mistake…perhaps the name hair receiver just sounds too much like a position in football. In that case, I suppose you already guessed that instead of Football, the sport would have to be called Hairball.)
This ring was made by artist Erika Borbos, who also makes tiaras out of hair. Unfortunately I could not find much else in the way of information about her, but I wanted to include this photo because it’s a beautiful example of recent hairwork. The gold really compliments the colors in the hair.
Also please visit the Victorian Hairwork Society for more information and visual examples, which is how I found out about the artists mentioned above. And if you happen to discover any other cool stuff about hair art, I’d be happy to hear about it!