Hairwork Jewelry-Tokens of Love
by C. Jeanenne Bell, G. G.
As I travel across the country, speaking about jewelry I meet many collectors of hairwork, I'm continuously amazed at how much interest there is in it. Many people have pieces that have been handed down in the family but they often have no idea of its history or value.
The first piece of hairwork jewelry I discovered was an open worked chain with a cross worked in the same pattern. The dealer said that it was made of human hair but I wasn't convinced that this was true. Why would someone want to make a necklace out of hair? If indeed it was hair, how was this intricate work accomplished? The piece was supposedly over 100 years old but it was in beautiful condition. How could this be?
Obviously the piece has aroused my curiosity and my natural investigative urge. I paid $18.00 for the necklace, tucked it in my bag and wondered if I'd ever see another piece of jewelry made of hair. This purchase happened over 25 years ago. Today I own approximately 500 pieces of these tiny tokens of love. And indeed this is what they are- painstaking done, lovingly constructed, works from the heart. Over the years, I've been fasinated with the artistry of hair, but it wasn't until years later, that I became aware of the full impact of the emotions that can be evoked by a lock of hair.
In June of 1995, my daddy's body was consumed by cancer. As I looked at the thin body that housed the spirit of a man that I loved so much, I realized how much that I would like to have a lock of his hair.
My dilemma was that I did not want to disturb him by cutting his hair. To appreciate this, you'll have to understand how fastidious my daddy was about his personal appearance. He was always well groomed and while other's "dressed down" on their days off, he always wore dress shoes, slacks and a laundered shirt. Consequently I decided not to burden him by cutting his hair.
On the final day I asked my son-in-law if he would cut a lock of hair immediately after my daddy "passed over". I cautioned him to get a piece from the back so that it would not affect the look of his hair.
Afterwards, I realized that I would have liked a bigger piece. My son-in-law said that he would get another lock at the funeral home. But when they brought out my daddy's body for the last farewell, he looked so good that I literally did not want to disturb a hair on his head.
Words cannot express what this tiny piece of hair means to me. And while my daddy's love and spirit are always with me, this whisp of white hair is the only piece of his mortal remains that was spared from the grave. It is my only tangible memento of the body that housed my dear daddy. How precious it is!
Finally I understood why hairwork jewelry was popular for more than 200 years. I've already informed my mother that I want a generous amount of her hair the next time she has it cut.
C. Jeanenne Bell
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Victorian Hairwork Society