By Emily Dafoe, Visitor Host
When guests come through the Oshawa Community Museum for tours, one of the few artifacts that you can always rely on to elicits a large, and in most cases repulsed, reaction are the hair wreaths and jewelry. Within Henry House, one of the three historical houses at our museum, there are two hair wreaths hanging up, one in the Parlour, and a second one in the Dining Room, as well there are a few pieces of jewelry made of hair in the Bedroom of the house. Without fail, guests always feel the need to do a second take upon learning the materials of which these artifacts are made out of. While guests are usually quite freaked out by the hair artifacts, what most of the guests do not realize is that this type of handicraft was very common practice for young girls living in the Victorian Period.
Upon researching I came across this (https://archive.org/details/selfinstructori00campgoog) book from Internet Archive that was published in 1867, which is titled Art of Hair Work: Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, and Braids, and Hair Jewelry for Every Description, and was written by Mark Campbell. This book from the Victorian Period acts as an instructional book for every hair craft related, and was fascinating to read through. This book walks the reader through the making of various different braids that can be done with hair, as well as various types of crafts and jewelry that these braids can help one create. Campbell teaches his audience to create these hair braids through the use of a braiding table. While there are other ways of creating hair crafts, a braiding table seems to be one of the most popular. Hair would be braided around wires, which gave the craft a stronger structure.
Hair crafts, such as the ones displayed throughout Henry House, were a common way that loved ones were remembered by a family. At times when a loved one passed away some hair may have been saved to create a memorial wreath to remember them. However, that is not the only way that hair was acquired for the wreath. A lot of the hair used in a hair wreath would also come from hair from hairbrushes of Victorian women.
Something that I believe is lost in the reactions to the hair artifacts are the skills, time, and work that went into these crafts. Next time you’re down by Lakeview Park, stop by and come check out the hair crafts that we have in Henry House, you may be surprised by how impressive they are.
Campbell, Mark. Art of Hair Work: Dressing Hair, Making Curls, Switches, and Braids, and Hair Jewelry for Every Description. (1867).