A Forgotten Art – by Kelli Gamel

LecomptonKSMuseum News

Hair wreaths were wildly popular in the 19th century. There were many different reasons to make a hair wreath: church groups, schools, love tokens, art works, and mourning the death of a friend or family member. Victorians viewed hair as sentimental, many women traditionally grew their hair throughout their entire lives, seldom cutting it (Palka, Lindsey. 2014). It was very common for Victorian women to exchange locks of hair, especially between friends or family or friends whom they would never see again. Schoolgirls often exchanged hair in scrapbooks as a memento (Palka, Lindsey. 2014).

Hair as a commodity was light, portable, and free of charge. It was thin and relatively durable and could be woven into very intricate art forms, the most popular being flowers. Mourning hair wreaths were one of the most popular forms of hair art. The hair would be collected from the deceased, formed into a design and added to a horseshoe shaped wreath. The hair in the center of the wreath usually belonged to the most recently deceased family member (Everhart Museum). The top of the wreath was always kept open as to be pointing heavenward (Deegan, Jim 2011).

Edna Moran Cole's Family Hair Wreath from 1887.

Edna Moran Cole’s Family Hair Wreath from 1887.

The one aspect of hair art that has remained popular up to today’s era is children’s locks of hair we keep after their first haircut. When one sees or imagines a hair wreath, it can be slightly unpleasant, we do not look at hair with the same sentimentality as those of the Victorian era. Today we have our phones, the internet, gift exchanges, and pictures available to share to whomever we desire. In the Victorian Era, many people did not have the means to get their photographs taken. When they passed or moved, they used their hair wreaths and art as a tangible memory of their loved ones.

The Lecompton Territorial Capital Museum houses a hair wreath donated by Edna Moran Cole in 1987. The wreath is over 120 years old. It is presumed based on the horseshoe shape of the wreath that it was used for mourning. It is intricately designed and housed in a lovely shadow box. Stop in today to see the wreath, and the other unique items that the Museum has on display!

-Kelli Gamel

Sources/ Further Reading:

Deegan, Jim. Historical Treasures: Victorian Hair Wreaths. 2011. Express Times Staff. http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/entertainment-general/index.ssf/2011/04/historical_treasures_victorian.html

Mourning Hair Wreath. http://www.everhart-museum.org/Collection/Wreath.htm

Palka, Lindsey. Victorian Hair Art and Mourning Traditions. http://the-toast.net/2014/07/25/victorian-hair-art/

The Lost Art of Sentimental Hairwork. 4 February 2012. http://www.victoriangothic.org/the-lost-art-of-sentimental-hairwork/