I really should not judge an artifact in this way. As a museum, we keep artifacts which are representative of the history of our community. This history obviously takes many different forms and shapes. At our best, we are trying to collect artifacts which represent the breadth of human experience in the Annapolis Royal region. My problem is that there is one particular type of artifact that is found in many museum collections which I find horribly creepy. Not creepy in the watching a scary movie or having some fun with your friends on Halloween sort of creepy. I am talking about a shivers up the spine and a feeling of mild revulsion sort of creepy (I have been known to be overly dramatic by times). If you have not yet guessed from either the title of this post or the photographs, I am talking about Victorian hair wreaths.
I suppose I should explain exactly what these artifacts are because most people are unlikely to encounter a hair wreath today. Essentially, these are a memorial wreath made by twisting or sewing human hair around a wire to create intricate floral designs. Patterns and instructions for wreaths, as well as other hair related crafts, were found in places like Godey's Ladies Magazine. The hair flowers were arranged in a horse shoe type design with the open part of the shoe facing up. Wreaths of this sort were often made using hair from different members of the same family when they perished. The hair would either be saved in a hair keeper (creepy in its own right) or made into a design which could be expanded as the need arose. In some of the more elaborate examples I have seen there is actually a photograph of the deceased included in the middle of the design. When finished, the wreath would be placed in a shadow box and displayed in the house. If you had not already guessed, it is the human hair from dead people element which I find creepy. I should stress that not all hair wreaths were made as memorials. Some were made by schools or church groups as a project. While these are mildly less objectionable, I still find them creepy by association.
I must admit that I do admire the skill involved in creating a hair wreath. It would not be easy to work with a material as light or as fine as human hair. When I am able to put my visceral reactions behind me, I actually think that they are strangely beautiful. These artifacts are also an excellent entry point for discussions with visitors about the intricate world of Victorian mourning customs. The memorial wreath in this post comes from the collection at the O'Dell House Museum.
All for now,