8 Collections Featuring Hair as Art and Souvenir

A Victorian mourning brooch made with hair
A Victorian mourning brooch made with hair

Humans have been using hair to create jewelry and artwork for thousands of years. The practice goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt, when tomb paintings show pharaohs and their consorts exchanging hair balls as love tokens. But the practice of turning hair into art reached its zenith during the Victorian era, when locks were clipped from the living to create tokens of esteem and affection, or snipped from the dead to make mementos. During the Victorian era both men and women wore hair jewelry, which often came in the form of complicated braids fashioned into pins, rings, necklaces, bracelets, watch chains, and more. There were hair wreaths and hair paintings, and even hair sculptures; gold, jet, enamel, and seed pearls often adorned the hair to add further ornamentation. Often, hair came from a beloved family member or friend, but there was also a thriving trade in imported hair from strangers—the longer, finer, and more unusually colored the better. (Historic New England and the Massachusetts Historical Society have some great examples in their collections and online.)

The Victorian fascination with hair was part of that era’s preoccupation with death, an ever-present threat in the days when mortality rates were high. Jeweler Karen Bachmann, a professor of Art & Design at the Pratt Institute who teaches how-to classes on hairwork at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum, explains that the making of hair into mementos was a way Victorians coped with loss. "What interests me about hairwork is the concept of human anatomical relic as a stand-in for the entire person," she says. "Just as people have worshipped parts (bones, etc.) of saints, the Victorians held on to remnants of their loved ones by retaining pieces of their hair. In this way, the wearer could keep their loved one close—literally and metaphorically."

Today, there are still a few places where you can see Victorian hairwork on display, and an assortment of other spots where history and culture are wound up with famous and not-so-famous tresses:

1. Leila's Hair Museum // Independence, Missouri


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For a crash course in Victorian hair work, visit Leila's Hair Museum. The brainchild of hairdresser Leila Cohoon, the museum includes a collection of more than 600 hair wreaths and 2,000 pieces of jewelry made with human hair, including bracelets, necklaces, earrings, hat pins, cuff links, buttons, and more. Cohoon says she began collecting hairwork in 1956, after falling in love with a small gold-framed hair wreath at a Kansas City, Missouri antiques dealer’s. She hasn’t looked back, and adds to her ever-growing collection by drawing on garage and estate sales, auctions, personal connections, and donations. The first iteration of Leila's Hair Museum opened in 1986 in the front of her cosmetology school, and moved to its current location in January 2005. Cohoon even gives classes on how to make Victorian-style hairwork yourself, and says she’s reverse-engineered 30 techniques the Victorians once used (she’s still working on another five).

2. Avanos Hair Museum // Goreme, Turkey


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This may the world's only pottery center/guest house/hair museum. In a cave. As Atlas Obscura notes, "calling it a museum may be a bit of a stretch," but it's certainly a remarkable sight—an estimated 16,000 locks of hair dangle from the ceilings and walls, the oldest supposedly hung in 1979. The tendrils vary in color and size, but are all said to come from the heads of female visitors. Supposedly, a local potter started the place when a dear friend was saying goodbye and the potter asked for a souvenir to remember her by. The friend cut off a piece of her hair, which the potter ended up displaying in his pottery shop. He told the story to visitors, some of whom were moved to duplicate the woman's generosity, and the collection took off.

3. Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum has an excellent collection of hair jewelry, much of it stored in a cabinet on the mezzanine level of Room 91. Highlights include a fantastic diamond-and-pink sapphire broach with a locket of blond plaited hair, a beautiful brooch made to commemorate the death of a 16-year-old who died in 1842, and a 17th-century ring with an enameled skeleton on a background of hair, made in memory of a child known only by the initials “I.C.”

4. John Reznikoff’s Collection

Collector John Reznikoff's assortment of celebrity hair isn't usually open to the public—unless the public happens to be a buyer with some seriously deep pockets. Among the strands plucked from George Washington, Beethoven, Napoleon, and John Dillinger is a clump of hair said to come from Abraham Lincoln after his assassination, and still bearing bits of his brain matter. Reznikoff estimates that the clump, kept in a special gold-and-glass case, is worth about $750,000. Not all the samples get the gold box treatment, however; most rest inside a filing cabinet, in plain envelopes alongside documentation proving their origins.

Reznikoff buys from auction houses, small dealers, and the "occasional grandmother," according to The New York Times, but stopped buying hair from living celebrities after a deal with Neil Armstrong's barber led the former astronaut to sue. However, there's still plenty of business where dead celebrities are concerned—in 2008, Reznikoff sold a selection of Beethoven's hair to a company that turned it into a synthetic diamond, which eventually sold for $202,000 on eBay.

5. The Japan Hair Museum // Kyoto

Hair, fashion, and history go hand-in-hand—think of the flappers' bobs or 1960s beehives. At Kyoto's Japan Hair Museum, also known as the Japanese Coiffure Museum, 115 hairpieces provide a history of Japan through its many hairstyles, from the distant past to the product-obsessed present. Hundreds of hair ornaments and combs are also on display, although if hair accessories are more your thing, there's a museum for that too: The museum of Traditional Japanese Hair Ornaments in Tokyo.

6. Bangsbo Museum // Frederikshavn, Denmark

Hairwork has deep roots in Scandinavia, where poor harvests in the 19th century encouraged the rise of a cottage industry in hair art and jewelry made by country women. Known in Sweden as hårkullor, or "hair ladies," these women would often travel Europe creating hair-based handicrafts and sending the funds back home to help keep their villages afloat. They created all kinds of jewelry—brooches, rings, and watch chains—using hair provided (usually) by the customer. Men wore the hair of their wives fashioned into intricately braided watch chains, while women opted for necklaces, rings, and other adornments made from their husbands' tresses. Today, the Bangsbo Museum displays hårkullor handicrafts in a permanent exhibition that forms Northern Europe's largest collection of hair art. You can see necklaces, rings, wreaths, plaques, and most bizarrely, a pair of very hairy mittens.

7. John Varden’s Cabinets

In the early 1850s, John Varden was working for the National Institute for the Promotion of Science at the US Patent Office when he began collecting locks of hair for a display he would later call "Hair of Persons of Distinction." The curious framed collection included small snippets from the heads (presumably) of inventor Samuel Morse, sculptor Clark Mills, General Sam Houston, and Senators Henry Clay and Jefferson Davis, among other notables. Varden later created a second, equally large display featuring the hair of presidents from George Washington to Franklin Pierce. Both displays once belonged to the Patent Office, but now reside at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The first cabinet is notable for preserving Varden's appeal: “Those having hair of Distinguished Persons, will confere [sic] a Favor by adding to this Collection."

8. Myrans Hemslöjd // Vamhus, Sweden

Vamhus, Sweden may be the only place left in Europe with a thriving hairwork community. In the 19th century, village women made hundreds of trips around Europe to learn and perform the craft, and it never quite died out. If you save up your strands (and your pennies), you can order your own hairwork brooches, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, or watch chains here. You can see hairwork on display at Myrans Hemslöjd, a local handicrafts store that is keeping the tradition alive.

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
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Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
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How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
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Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
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Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
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In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
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In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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