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A Look Back: Ways to remember loved ones

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KODAK Digital Still Camera

By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to the items that were kept for memories of our loved ones that had past, and you will find everything from baby teeth to locks of baby hair to hair wreaths and hair jewelry.

Memories of the dead were more important and visible in the Victorian homes. It was proper to hang pictures of the tombstones engraved with the names of the dead, and many people made flowers or pictures from the hair of the deceased.

We at the Concord Historical Society have samples of a hair wreath in our museum, which will open again in the first weekend of May.

The hair flowers were mounted as a wreath or a basket of flowers and the entire arrangement was placed into a deep picture frame or under a bell of glass. Some of the designs would contain hair from several generations of a family, added onto each year as family members passed away or moved away.

The wreath then would be passed on through the family with the new generation assuming the duty of adding in hair over the years.

The hair would have been woven or braided into dozens of flower styles, leaves, pinecones, nest, birds and grasses. A variety of hair colors were desirable to give the wreath a design multiple tones to better distinguish the individual elements of the wreath.

Most of the hair wreaths were formed into a horseshoe shape and placed on a silk or velvet background inside of a frame. The top of the wreath was always kept open, ascending heavenward. It is said that the newest addition would be placed in the center and then moved to the side to become part of the large wreath when the next person would pass away.

Turning the hair into these delicate works was similar to tatting or weaving lace. The hair strands were woven, braided and wrapped around thin wires so the hair could be shaped or formed.  Hair was wound around small tubes and boiled then dried so the tube could be removed and the hair would retain the shape.

A family hair wreath was a way of telling about the family and its history, the same way a family tree indicates who is a member of a certain family are and their relationships today.

Not all hair wreaths were made for mourning. Churches, schools and other groups might make a hair wreath from the current congregations or schools. Everyone would contribute hair to be woven into the creation.

Hair could also be used to make small shapes and sent to families who lived far away as a memento of a recently deceased loved one.

They would also create hair jewelry, which was popular in the late 1700s and continued until the late Victorian years. They found that human hair a perfect vehicle to express their love, either for sentimental notions of courtship or the obsession with mourning.

Women oftentimes spent several years mourning the loss of a loved one, and on occasion chose to wear such a symbol, suitably mounted as a pin, bracelet or ring.

With these objects, they did not deteriorate after the person died. The hair was plaited or woven and incorporated into miniatures painted on ivory or glass. Usually on the backside of the piece, was the name and dates of the deceased.

Another unusual method of hair remembrance was to attach the woven hair in small memory books. The locks of hair from friends and family would be braided or twisted into intricate patterns, pasted into a small handmade booklet and the person’s name was written beside the lock of hair.

A poem that is written inside: “This lock of hair once did grow, upon a person’s head you know, but now is placed within this book for those to see that may chance to look.”

We here at the Lucy Bensley Center have a few pages out of one where they were attached with red wax.

Do you have any memento art in your family? We would love to see them and hear the stories you have. We are opened Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come and see us at Lucy Bensley Center located at 23 North Buffalo St., Springville. Call us at 592-0094 or email lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

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