Ephemera. Not. What to do with all this hair?

ImageEver 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.ImageImage 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. Imageother photos: locks of mom and dad’s hair – mom’s formed a kind of heart.

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About reneetamara

Writing about death, mental illness, spirituality, art and perfume. Because beauty feeds the soul, and love is beyond what we think.

7 responses to “Ephemera. Not. What to do with all this hair?”

  1. Kathy Pearlman says :

    I’ve seen some hair art before- it’s beautiful – if done well, it’s not really noticeable as “Hair”..

  2. reneetamara says :

    I may give it a try though I am unsure my eyesight is up to the task. I understand that the hair must first be boiled so that it may remain in archival condition.

  3. Christos says :

    There is so much contradictory meaning in hair. On a living person it embodies the ephemeral: it falls, it turns grey, it grows and it gets cut and thrown away. Yet it is the most persistent part of our perishable bodies. And although it is as much part of our body as, let’s say a finger, giving it away is as easy and painless. There is a lot of food for art and thought there.

    • reneetamara says :

      Yes, indeed. When I first saw the old mourning rings and brooches with plaited hair, it seemed a bit creepy or morbid to me. Suppose I have someone’s hair from long ago that I don’t even know? But then I thought, well, I would be honoring the memory of someone’s mother, father, brother or sister. Does it really matter who it is? The hair once belonged to a person who was cared for.

      Another thing about exchanging hair – I love that scene from Anne of Green Gables where Anne asks Diana to exchange a lock of hair with her – and now we are bosom friends forever!
      You are right, so easy to give, and so intimate.

      Still not sure what to do with that pouch filled with hair… 🙂

  4. Undina says :

    I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to comment on the topic but the topic creeps me out so I’ll say it: every time I see anything created from human hair (other than wigs) I think of Nazi death camps. I don’t think anything should be made from people (wigs, blood, sperm and donor organs are an acception).

    • reneetamara says :

      I hear you, Undina, and I too find it mildly creepy, but not entirely creepy. Sweethearts do exchange locks of hair, which carries a different vibe to memento mori art works.

      Still, I really don’t quite know what to do with this…

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