Museum 75th Anniversary

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hair Wreath

One of the more unusual pieces at Prairie Trails Museum is an intricately crafted wreath made of human hair. 

It was crafted by Susan Lee and donated by her daughter Harriet Draper.

The wreath must have been made from several tresses from different people as there are assorted colors of hair in the piece.

Following is an article published online about hair wreaths. After reading this and several other articles online, I determined that we are displaying the wreath at our museum upside down. Read on to see why.

Hair and Gone
By Karen Livsey and the Fenton History Center Staff

Hair has long been a keepsake by which a loved one or a friend is remembered. Even a
favored pet such as a dog, cat or horse can be remembered by a lock of hair or something
made from the hair. Lockets held not only a photograph or a small painting of a loved
one but often contained a lock of their hair.

Hair wreaths, hair pictures and hair jewelry were widely seen during the 19th century.
Instead of a painting or photograph of the family, a hair wreath could be made using hair
from various family members. This gave the assorted colors seen in a hair wreath.

Wreaths were constructed using crocheting or tatting techniques around wire. They were
also braided or woven around tubes or knitting needles. The tubes would then be boiled
and dried. The needle or tube would then be removed and the molded hair could be
fashioned into jewelry or used in a hair wreath. The hair around the wire could be bent to
make intricate flowers and leaves. Wreaths were often constructed in a horseshoe shape
leaving the top open-maybe to keep the family’s good luck-or if a memorial wreath, to
give the impression of ascending heavenward. If it was a memorial wreath, the hair of the
deceased was added to the center and would be moved to the side when the next person
passed away.

Not all hair wreaths were memorials. Some were keepsakes of family members who may
have moved away or a wreath could be made for a family member who was moving
away. They could also be made of hair from members of a church, a school or a similar

A less elaborate hair keepsake was a woman’s bracelet, brooch, and earrings. The hair
was made into the form of a flower or a lock of hair was intricately braided and could
then be encased in the brooch. Men could have vest chains made with fine ribbon and
braided hair. 

Some soldiers during the Civil War had watch fobs made from their wife’s hair.
Mourning rings which were given to family members and close friends after a funeral
often contained hair of the deceased. Hair wreaths and some jewelry could be made at
home or the hair could be sent to a professional hair weaver to construct the wreath or
jewelry. Peterson’s Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, two of the popular magazines
of the mid-1800s, included instructions for making flowers and other items from hair.
Throughout 1861 Godey’s illustrated the types of hair work available by mail-order.
Prices for earrings varied from $4.50 to $10 - very expensive for the time. Hair jewelry
was the most popular item ordered in 1859.

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