Ephemera. Not. What to do with all this hair?
Ever since I can remember, my mother used to save little bits and pieces of our lives, sort of tracks of the journey, I suppose. Starting with the umbilical cord stump, and then the first lock of hair from the first haircut, and then the first lost tooth, and so on and so on. Not to mention our first marks on the page, the first word, or sentence, drawings, letters and hand made cards accumulated over the years. It’s a common inclination to keep sentimental ephemera as a container, however fragile or fleeting to hold our memories and treasured moments. I know a young woman who collects the corks from discarded wine bottles shared at special gatherings with family and friends and dates them as a remembrance.
Hair is something a little different from your typical cork, or letter, or movie ticket. If the definition of ephemera is something transient, usually referring to paper items that have been collected over time, hair is in a class of its own. It lasts. And lasts.
The sentimental Victorians had a remarkable process for preparing and working the hair of a sweetheart or deceased loved one into works of art and jewelry that could be painstakingly elaborate. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have become increasingly interested in Victorian mourning jewelry as a simple everyday way to demonstrate remembrance of a lost loved one. In America, we rush by so many of life’s milestones so that the message to the bereaved is to get over it, or move on with life. I admire the Victorians for allowing space within social practices to openly mourn.Image of framed scene including delicate hairwork from a current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum.
Going through my mother’s trunk last week, I found a mysterious, black silk drawstring pouch. Upon opening it I found carefully labeled packages of hair of family members, some of it in alarming quantities. I was impressed and a little dismayed and thought what the heck am I supposed to do with this? It’s slightly creepy, but if you put it into context, mom has provided me with some raw material for future hair art of my own. Stay tuned. It may be a while, and will take some research on technique, but I see hair art in my future.
For more information on hair art and other mourning practices check out the Art of Mourning website. other photos: locks of mom and dad’s hair – mom’s formed a kind of heart.