When we heard about Victorian hair wreaths collection at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum we were incredulous, but knew we had to see them. Bizarre memento mori? Objects of exquisite revulsion? Seeing them, however, led to an even greater degree of disbelief and even fewer words.

David Ryan, Registrar at the Pioneers Museum, explains this macabre craft of the 1800s and walks us through the slideshow:

The hair wreath tradition basically runs from about 1850 through roughly about 1880. It was one of a group of crafts known as “fancy work” that women (typically middle-class to upper-class women) did. Some of the other forms of fancy work were similar constructions to the hair wreaths except made out of yarn or sometimes shells and sea ferns, occasionally wax. Usually hair wreaths are in the form of a horseshoe. This was basically along the same lines as nailing a horseshoe above your door to keep the luck in. Otherwise, if you turned it upside down, the luck would “run out.” We’ve been told that new additions to the hair wreaths actually happen right at the bottom of the horseshoe of the horseshoe and others move along the sides towards the top. Most times the hair was from family members. Occasionally there would be a wreath made by a church or some other kind of community. And you can see that there are a variety of different colors of hair because these family members were of various ages. Some of them were memorial wreaths. They were added when somebody died and they would collect the hair from this family member.

If you look at the construction it’s basically a kind of a wire armature that’s in the shape of a horseshoe, and there are different flowers or constructions attached to this wire armature. That made it possible to take them apart and move those pieces up the wreath as they wanted to add to it.

Somebody of a modern sensibility might be kind of creeped out by these things, but back in Victorian times they considered hair as something that should be saved. In fact, every proper Victorian lady had on her dressing table a container called a hair receiver. And every time she’d brush her hair and clean out the brush she’d put the hair into the hair receiver to save it for crafts like this.

We’ve had some speculation from a scholar that some of these were made by people who did nothing but create hair wreaths. And, as far as we know, there was no such profession. These were made by women in their own homes and not for commercial purposes.

(We always love your feedback in the comments below. We also love it when you forward our emails and these posts to your friends and ask them to sign up for our daily email. It helps us a lot. Truly! If you have any ideas for Big Somethings, please email us at thebigsomething@krcc.org. Cheers.)

 

12 Responses to Hair Wreaths. Yes, Hair Wreaths.

  1. Carol says:

    These are beautiful pieces! I love the mourning broochs that also incorporate photographs of the deceased. Check out Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri if you are in the area! Great Big Something!

  2. My grandmother had a wonderful framed hair wreath and all of us grandchildren were fascinated by the beauty as well as the subject matter!

  3. JJM says:

    I thought at first they were “wreaths for hair,” ala pagan headwear. Boy was I wrong.

  4. Nancy Wilsted says:

    And could we common folk view said wreaths, or must one be a big something?

  5. Heather says:

    Simply amazing. I didn’t know anything like this existed…especially 2 miles from my house. Thanks Noel.

  6. Mike Procell says:

    Much nicer than the “hair wraiths” that seem to plague me nightly now – ‘hair yesterday’- gone today…

  7. If one gets tired of looking at these can they be used to flavor a soup?

  8. Marina Eckler says:

    just remembered where i’ve seen this craft before:

    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v124/Starlings/omnivore/med02.gif

  9. Marina Eckler says:

    bjork’s medulla record, back cover

  10. […] to announce that, by popular demand, two of the Victorian “fancy craft” hair wreaths we featured here on The Big Something last week have been placed on display beginning today, Tuesday, June 23, 2009 at the Colorado Springs […]

  11. Karen says:

    We have a lovely, however far more simple piece to share with you at McAllister House Museum and even a hair receiver on a dresser! Support your local history museums!

  12. […] about The Big Something has been the opportunity to open windows onto our local history through audio slideshows with expert narration by staff members of the museum. In light of the budget cuts, we thought […]

News

AP
May 30, 2015 | NPR · The semi-annual phenomenon in late May and mid-July each year occurs when the Sun aligns with the street grid in Manhattan, casting a shaft of light between the skyscrapers.
 

AFP/Getty Images
May 30, 2015 | NPR · Gordon Brown of the U.N. said it’s the worst year for refugees since 1945, and cited a litany of other miseries for youth. We asked experts what can be done to make 2015 a little less horrible.
 

AP
May 30, 2015 | NPR · The Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI spoke with two individuals who made accusations of sexual abuse against the former Speaker of the House.
 

Arts & Life

May 30, 2015 | NPR · Bill Shirer brought stories of war in Europe into American homes. NPR’s Scott Simon talks with Ken Cuthbertson about his new book, A Complex Fate: William L. Shirer and the American Century.
 

May 30, 2015 | NPR · Dutch art detective Arthur Brand helped recover the pieces — including two bronze horses that used to stand outside the Reich Chancellery and which were thought to have been destroyed in the war.
 

Courtesy of Will Hodgkinson
May 30, 2015 | NPR · When Will Hodgkinson was a kid, his father, a journalist, was hit with a bad case of food poisoning. Over the long recovery period, he rethought his life — and decided to join the Brahma Kumaris.
 

Music

iStockphoto.com
May 30, 2015 | NPR · Everything changes — except theme-park playlists, where REO Speedwagon, Journey and Supertramp have never gone out of style. Why is that, exactly?
 

Courtesy of the artist
May 30, 2015 | NPR · The drummer is an NEA Jazz Master who’s played with everybody, including Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett. But for his new live album, DeJohnette called in some hometown pals.
 

Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
May 30, 2015 | NPR · As men went off to combat in World War II, a group of Southern college women took to the bandstand. Meet the Darlinettes — hear their music and stories from their leader and their drummer.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab