Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Victorian Mourning Wreath at the Oaks

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Loretta reports:

As promised, I made a second trip to the Historic Paine Estate, the Oaks,
this time for a private tour with Jennifer Willson. This splendid old house is filled with treasures, some appearing in unexpected places. I hope to get to several of them in the coming weeks.

Today I start with mourning, which became a major industry during the Victorian era. Though Queen Victoria represents the extreme of grief, mourning did become more strictly codified and ostentatious in the U.S. as well as England, and fashion magazines like Godey's commented disapprovingly on current practices. Still, what looks to us like a morbid obsession may simply reflect the Victorian tendency to over-decorate and overdo. It may be a coping mechanism, too, for a time when even London's privileged lived over filth, and cholera, typhoid fever, and other epidemics raged through communities to decimate families.

In the days before photography, the bereaved used their loved ones’ hair to create mementos, and the practice continued long after photography became possible. Our predecessors did create some beautiful if rather macabre objects.

The wreath made of hair is one of the more spectacular expressions of mourning from this era, and the Paine Estate owns this fine example, as well as mourning jewelry, which I'll be showing in the very near future.

This blog post explains hair wreaths in some detail. And here is an example from the Everhart Museum.

And now for the plug, because this house deserves to be seen and experienced (and it needs our support):
If you’re in the area, I think you'll find a visit to the Oaks (140 Lincoln Street, Worcester, MA) as fascinating as I did. This year the remaining visiting days are 12 September and 3 October 1-4PM.  There will also be a Christmas Open House in early December, when the Oaks gets all dressed up in her holiday finest.

Doesn't fit your schedule? You can arrange a special group tour by contacting the DAR Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter:

 I also recommend Jennifer’s blog Revolutionary Oaks. She's a true Nerdy History Girl.

Please click on images to enlarge.


Anonymous said...

Was this wreath made in Britain, or America? It would appear to be American since it's on display in an American house, but calling it "Victorian" - implying British, where Victoria was queen - blurs things somewhat.

Hels said...

Not morbid at all. When my beloved mum passed away this February, I was consumed by the need to create mementos. I sent the books she wrote to the state library, put her travel photos in albums and arranged her jewellery in a display case.

Perhaps hair would not be used as a cherished memento now, but I understand the Victorians' thinking.

Pippa Shirley said...

Very good to see this - followers of your blog might be interested to know that we have an exhibition at Waddesdon at the moment on this very subject, created by contemporary artist Jane Wildgoose. Called Beyond all Price, it explores 19th-century notions of loss, mourning and legacy and the role that hairwork played. Jane learnt how to make hairwork, and with the help of a number of volunteers, some of whom used their own hair, made a pair of hairwork and feather mourning wreaths as part of the installation. She also introduced us to the marvels of Laila's Hairwork Museum which is mentioned in one of your other links and is the kind of place that everyone needs to know about! More information, about the exhibition, and images of the installations which runs until the end of October can be found here

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket