Ann Wood died 23 April, 1791, aged 26. Gold, Ivory, sandalwood, dissolved human hair, woven hair (interior) sepia, leather, satin. Dissolved hair sepia painting and palette work, English. From the collection of Jennifer Berman.
America was awash in bereavement in the late 19th century, and keeping sentimental tokens of grief was common as the nation struggled with memories of its massive Civil War losses. One of the strangest forms of the era’s folk art to surface: flowers, jewelry, and elaborate memorial wreaths made of human hair, often from the deceased.
The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia’s noted connoisseur of medical curiosities, has brought together six private collections for its exhibit Woven Strands: The Art of Human Hair Work. The identity of those whose hair is featured in these intricate displays has been largely lost to history, but these intricate, delicate crafts often laid before period images of the locks’ previous owners are an unsettling display of the pain of personal anguish, no matter which century.