Archive for March, 2017
A Look into Historic Bethlehem’s Newest Exhibition
Did you know that human hair used to be a treasured commodity that was bought and sold, imported from around the world, and used for jewelry and home décor? In 19th and early 20th century England and America, it was common for people to save the hair of friends or loved ones and transform it into wearable tokens of affection or framed ornaments for the home.
The craft of creating unique jewelry and art using human hair as the principal material is called “Hairwork.” It’s an ancient tradition, but took root in a big way in 1700s Scandinavia, then spread through Europe, England, and the U.S. By the 19th century making hairwork items at home was all the rage among Victorian ladies!
Love is in the Hair
I know what you’re thinking – why hair? Well, the Victorians were sentimental souls who loved to save reminders of the past, and hair was the perfect souvenir of a child, a friend, or someone who had passed away. In fact, hair made a nearly indestructible physical token that could be worn or displayed as a memento, something like the way we use photographs today.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Because war, illness, and poor sanitation made life expectancy far shorter than in today’s world, the Victorians were often in mourning and treasured a hairwork ring or brooch as a memorial. It may seem a bit morbid today, but back then they took comfort in knowing that at least one small part of a loved one would always be with them.
The hair of a loved one was also woven into framed mourning scenes. Sometimes hair from all the members of a family were combined to create intricate wired flowers and leaves, then combined into wreaths, horseshoes or bouquets for shadow box displays!
Before it could be used, hair was carefully prepared and combined into “strands” which could be braided into intricate miniature chain designs, wrapped around wire, or attached to small or large backings. In the 1850s, women could find inspiration in Godey’s Ladies Book, and other magazines of the time. In 1875, Mark Campbell published more than 100 patterns in “The Art of Hair Work: Hair Braiding and Jewelry of Sentiment.”
By 1900, hairwork was so popular, tons of hair were imported every year from around the world to meet the demand. Just imagine! What we leave on the hairdresser’s floor today would have been worth real money to its owner during the Victorian Era.
Love for Sale
Victorian hairwork pieces are still available today in antique shops and online auctions. Plus, some artists are reviving, adapting, and drawing inspiration from the craft. Local contemporary artist Rebecca Reeves uses Victorian hairwreaths as a muse for her art! Reeves cocoons miniature furniture with thread in order to contain and preserve, like in her piece above entitled, Gathering My Ghosts.
See & Experience Hairwork For Yourself!
Don’t miss these fascinating programs:
- Pet Hair Felting Workshop, Thursday, March 30 from 6 – 8 pm, where you will craft unique felt miniatures of your pets using their hair led by local artist Diane Hutchinson.
- Horsehair Jewelry Demonstration, Saturday May 6 from 10 am – 4 pm, see local jewelry artist Susan Newquist demonstrate how she creates such intricate necklaces, bracelets, and other adornments from horsehair at our Community Heritage Day.
- Victorian Hair Art Workshop, Saturday, June 17 from 2 – 5 pm, where you will design and create your own hairwork jewelry with this contemporary technique taught by Master Jeweler Karen Bachmann!
- Hair Fashion Show, Thursday, August 24 from 6 – 9 pm, a trendsetting evening that will blow your hair back with its breathtaking blend of inspiring contemporary hairstyles and elegant Victorian-Era outfits. Watch models showcase this marvelous mix on the Kemerer catwalk!
Discover more about this amazing craft at HairWork: Relics of Remembrance, an exhibition displaying more than 130 examples of Victorian hairwork at the Kemerer and Moravian museums from March 16 to Sept. 3.