Threads Through Time-Mourning Bracelet

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Mourning Hair Bracelet, 1866
Human hair, metal clasp, daguerreotype
On loan from the Old State House Museum, Little Rock

Mourning jewelry made from the hair of a deceased loved one became popular in the late 19th century. Queen Victoria began the fashion trend when she began wearing a locket of her husband’s hair in a necklace. Lockets containing hair clippings soon turned into brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings woven out of hair.

The attitude towards death in the 19th century was much different than it is today. Higher mortality rates combined with funeral services and body preparations conducted in the home, made death more familiar. The growth of the funeral home business took this familiarity away from modern generations. Hairworks, such as these bracelets, may appear morbid to the modern viewer, but these pieces are sentimental reminders of family and loved ones. In a time before photography was common and inexpensive, a cutting of hair may be the only thing left to remember a loved one.

Primarily middle-class women made hair jewelry. There were several techniques that were used, including gimp work (wrapping hair on bendable wires); dissolving hair into ink or paint; palette work (stenciled hair cut into shapes and patterns); and table work. Table work involved a mechanism where hair is anchored with weights and threaded through holes so that it could be twisted into patterns. Women learned the art at home from publications like Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular magazine that printed patterns for hairworks, and the book Self-Instructor in the Art of Hair Work, by Mark Cambell published in 1867.

Hair work gained popularity in the United States during the Civil War, and remained so until World War I.

This mourning hair bracelet is made from the hair of Clara Krause (1847- 1866), and features a daguerreotype of her by the clasp. She was the sister of Aldophine Krause Fletcher (1854-1910), wife of former Little Rock Mayor John Gould Fletcher (1831-1906). Both sisters are buried in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.