Hair Art



Known as ‘hair art’ it has been a form of art that began in the 16th century or earlier, and flourished in the Victorian era (1800s). It was used by people wanting to keep a memento of a loved one before the invention of photography. Hair art originated in England and France and then made its way to the United States. This form of art can take the form of necklaces, bracelets, watch fobs, rings, lockets, earrings, paintings, hat pins and medallions embellished with strands of hair. Many were referred to a mourning wreath or jewelry, worn by surviving family members. But it did not have to be hair someone deceased. Many were created for a relative who would be away (in the military or traveling overseas) to have something personal of their loved one. A way of ‘freezing in time’ something personal.

It is amazing how skilled the individuals who created these pieces. Seeing that many have survived over 120 years proved that the creation would last a lifetime as a memento of a relative. Even when only a lock of hair was placed in a locket, it has remained for decades.

To help preserve this ‘lost art’, at The Leila’s Hair Museum, started by Leila Cohoon, in Independence, Missouri, is an official hair museum. There are more than 750 hair wreaths, as well as more than 2,000 pieces of hair pieces of jewelry which includes locks of hair dating from the 19th century and earlier. Her oldest exhibit is a brooch dated 1680. Also in the museum are actual hair samples from famous people including Elvis, President Lincoln and Queen Victoria.

The most fascinating are the varied hair art pieces. Each piece of jewelry in the hair museum tells a story of why it was made. Sometimes it will have the name of the person as well as their birth date and death date. Other times, it will include many names and be used as a family tree for genealogy purposes in a wreath form.

Besides family hair art, many churches, schools and other groups might make a hair wreath from the current congregation or school. Everyone would contribute hair to be woven into the wreath shape.

You might have some form of hair art and not realize it. Many of the display designs and jewelry you might know was made of hair. Check out what you do have as family artifacts.

Photos: Hair art as earrings and pin; braided pendant; a wall display with person’s initials and date; free-standing display; and a pin with initials.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Funeral Traditions

https://www.familytree.com/blog/funeral-traditions-of-your-ancestors/

Mourning Jewelry

https://www.familytree.com/blog/mourning-jewelry-and-others/

Ancestors’ Beauty Secrets

https://www.familytree.com/blog/our-female-ancestors-beauty-tips/

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