One thing I’ve become obsessed with (again) is Victorian memorial hair art. It’s been working it’s way into a lot of my drawings lately and I hope to try my hand at some actual hairwork later this year!
Hair art is the process of utilizing actual human hair woven into patterns used in artwork and jewelry. Though the use of hair can be traced back to the 12th century but the Victorians elevated it to new heights as a memorial item or for romantic purposes (like giving a lock of your hair to a lover), it was also a popular pastime with women during this era. During it’s peak popularity people crowded to see a life size portrait of Queen Victoria made of human hair at the Paris Exhibition of 1855!
One technique used to create hair art was called “sepia painting” where artists painted miniature scenes, usually tombs with mourning symbols like weeping willows or urns nearby, with a pigment made of crushed hair. These painted pieces were then set in jewelry. There are some beautiful examples shown below.
Other pieces featured hair woven into the shape of intricate flowers, wreaths, or simply plaited- sometimes small charms or items owned by the deceased are worked into the arrangement. You have likely come across the mourning brooches featuring braided or woven hair in the center. These are often done using glue to keep the hair in it’s shape, the curling motif seen often is called a “Prince of Wales Curl”.
Ladies would collect their hair from brushing daily in little receivers on their vanity tables, using it to weave watch chains and jewelry for their lover. Like so many mediums associated primarily by women hairwork was considered a “pastime” or craft for a very long time- and has only recently been featured as artwork in museums and galleries.
If you’d like to read more on Victorian hairwork here are some great resources:
Hefty article with great photos and loads of info: https://thevictormourning.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/labor-of-love-the-art-of-hair-work-in-the-19th-century/
Sepia Hair Painting photos and info:
Probably the world’s foremost expert on Victorian Hairwork and some of the most incredible photos of examples of it (definitely a road trip goal of mine to visit her museum in Missouri!):