During the Victorian age, mourning hair art became quite popular. Taking their cue from Queen Victoria who, after her husband’s death in 1861, adopted a permanent state of formal mourning that lasted the rest of her life, people began to look for ways to memorialize the passing of a loved one. Mourning thus became fashionable on both sides of the Atlantic.
Hair art has its roots in the 17th and 18th century when child mortality rates were extremely high. Hair, unlike flesh or bone, was found to keep its color and composition for decades, even centuries. So hair would be clipped and saved so it could be incorporated into artworks as a sentimental keepsake for those who were in mourning.
Artists would use hair in many ways. Some would arrange the hair in shapes (like a fleur-de-lis) to be inserted into lockets or as part of a montage; others would weave the hair to fashion an intricate lace or ribbon; some, after pulverizing the hair to form a kind of pigment, would then incorporate it into the paint itself and create a mourning scene on a piece of jewelry or canvas.
Hulda Schuhmann, the sister-in-law of my daughter-in-law’s 6th great-grandfather, was such an artist. Her tree, made with the hair of her departed husband, continues to remain in the family’s possession.
The popularity of mourning hair art waned during the 20th century until it has become almost non-existent today. Still the craftsmanship of the historic examples that have survived is unmistakable and we can only imagine the import they carried for the people for whom they were made.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please enjoy our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.
The years between 1500 and 1660 is widely known as the English Renaissance which saw a flowering of the arts, particularly within the dramatic field. William Shakespeare was, of course, the most notable figure to come out of this time. But he was not alone. Near the end of this grand period came James Shirley, the 10th great-grandfather of my aunt. He was a favorite of King Charles I and became the leading playwright for Queen Henrietta’s Men (the second leading acting troupe of the day, only behind the King’s Men for whom Shakespeare wrote.).
He was a prolific writer, credited with 37 tragedies, comedies, tragi-comedies and masques before his art was stymied by the times in which he lived. When the London theaters were closed in 1636 to prevent further spread of the plague, he moved to Dublin to become the dramatist for St. Werburgh’s Theatre. He moved back to London in 1640 but then Parliament again banned stage entertainment after the first English Civil War in 1642, citing the current “times of humiliation” and their incompatibility with “public stage-plays”, representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity.” Shirley turned to teaching and the publication of some educational works. Following the English Restoration in 1660, the ban was lifted but Shirley never again wrote for the stage… although many of his previously produced plays enjoyed a revival.
Shirley and his second wife suffered devastating loss during the Great Fire of London (1666) which led to both of them dying shortly thereafter due to fright and exposure.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.
Sometimes, historic documents used for genealogical research don’t tell the whole story. For example, when researching my wife’s grand-uncle, Angelo Magnanti, one would get the impression that he was either an architect or interior designer for that is how he described himself on the federal census reports from 1920 through 1940. It turns out that he was far more. Hearing of some family stories, I looked a little deeper and found that he was a renowned artist specializing in large scale projects.
Born and trained in Italy, he immigrated to New York, where he decorated numerous banks and churches and two walls within Penn Station (that building was torn down in 1966). Magnanti designed the mosaic ceiling of the banking room of the Williamsburg Savings Bank and four painted murals (illustrated above) that depicted scenes from the Bronx’s early European settlement for the Dollar Savings Bank in the Bronx.
In 1935, Magnanti executed the decorative finishes for architect John Russell Pope’s renovation and addition to the building housing The Frick Collection. Drawings for the renovation were among those exhibited at the Frick in 2010 to celebrate the museum’s 75th anniversary. Indeed, The Frick Art Reference Library is decorated with an earlier Magnanti mural and houses an archive on the artist.
Outside New York, Magnanti’s projects included decorations for the conference room of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.