Monday, November 29, 2010

Memento Mori Hair Jewelry

Memento Mori came up today during our conversation about Cornelia's jewelry piece commemorating her deceased animals.  I am also including a well know American quilt that serves a similar function. 

motifs for Victorian Hair jewelry
Intricate Hairwork bracelet with 14K Gold
Hair jewelry functioned as a keepsake of the dead and as a memento mori, a reminder that death was an ever-present possibility; the wearer was constantly reminded that she should lead a good life because death could strike without warning. Often a wearer would add more hair pieces to a glass-covered brooch when additional relatives or friends passed away. Hair jewelry was not always worn to commemorate the dead; lovers also wore pieces made from the couple’s hair. From HISTORY OF HAIR JEWELRY IN VICTORIAN AMERICA, Curated by Amy Karoly referenced on
The scene of the brooch is made from human hair. It shows a graveyard scene with a weeping willow tree overhanging a gravestone inscribed: ‘IN MEMORY OF A.G.’ Jewellery such as this is called memento mori, a reminder of death. This is because the hair is probably from a departed loved one. Such ‘hairwork’ was a popular craft and pastime in 18th and 19th century Europe. Women in Victorian Britain were permitted to wear hairwork jewellery in the ‘second stage’ of mourning. This began a year and a day after the loved one’s death. (from Science Museum, UK).
One way many women mourned and expressed grief at the loss of a loved one was in sewing. One such woman was Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell. In 1836, she began stitching a graveyard quilt (also known as a cemetery quilt or a memorial quilt) in memory of her son, John V., who had died in 1836 at the age of 2. She later added her son Mathias (Bub), who died in 1843 at the age of 19, to the quilt.   The graveyard on the quilt top is in Monroe County, Ohio. It was the way she wanted to make sure the family would not forget the location of the graves of their two sons as the family had moved to Kentucky. - from the Highland Museum and Discovery Center

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