With death ever present in Victorian America, it was common for families to keep mementos of their deceased loved ones. Clothes and photographs were popular items. Another item gained popularity during this time: hair art.
Hair art consisted of utilizing hair from the deceased person and crafting it into a showpiece for the home. From simple designs to extravagant layouts with additions of buttons and ribbons, hair art helped the mourner keep a piece of their loved one around.
Of the many types of hair art, the following two were very common. One technique, known as palette work, laid flat the hair and wove it into a pattern; additionally it could be cut with stencils into shapes. Another, table work installed the hair into jewelry or other heirlooms.
Cowtown recently received a piece of hair art as a donation for our collection. This is a framed piece with an interesting backstory attached to the back of the frame. Our new hair art was made in California by Rebecca Smith in 1876. Combined with the human hair is hair from goats; the donor mentioned the importance of goats and goats’ milk to her family history.
Our collection at Cowtown also holds other types of hair art. Below are two examples. First, we have a mourning bracelet that includes hair from the deceased loved one. Second is a hair picture made into a wreath, stitched onto a satin lining.
While this is something not typically done in the 21st century, hair art holds importance to the Victorian era.