Creepy or Cool?  Victorian Hair Work

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The above illustration comes from a book titled Self-instructor in the Art of Hair, written by Mark Campbell in 1862.

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Hair work was a popular activity for middle class Victorian women.  Although the history of hair work dates much further back, Queen Victoria popularized the art form in the mid-19th century.  Hair as a medium was ideal because of its strength and longevity (Egyptian mummies have even been found with hair intact!).  It is also an inexpensive and renewable resource.  Both jewelry and wreaths were popular forms of hair work; some examples from HSMC’s collection are below.

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This brooch is an example of palette work, which is created by laying hair on a flat surface and gluing it into designs or scenes.  The swoop you see in the brooch is an example of “Prince of Wales feathers.”

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This watch fob and earrings were made on a table, as exhibited in the first illustration.  Table work is braided or woven into strands, which could be solid or hollow.

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These hair wreaths would usually be made from the hair of the artist’s family or friends.  The differing colors show how many people gave their hair to the project.  In displays like this, hair does not need to be very long, only a few inches, allowing almost anyone to donate their hair to the cause.  The wreaths are made with an underlying system of wires supporting the hair wrapped around it.

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In the hair work discussed above, the hair for the designs would probably come from living persons.  Mourning jewelry was also made from the locks of a deceased loved one.  This again can be traced back to Queen Victoria.  After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she wore a lock of his hair in a brooch over her heart for the rest of her life.

Eventually professionals began cropping up, offering their services to a customer, who would then only need to choose a design and supply the hair to be used.  In the long term, commercialism was the downfall of hair art; because of its personal nature, it could not be mass-produced.

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Read more about HAIR WORK in HSMC’s next newsletter!

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