History of Hair Art

Leila’s Hair Museum is the only hair museum in the world, boasting over 600 hair wreaths and over 2000 pieces of jewelry made of human hair. First-time visitors to the museum usually don’t know what to expect. There is no exact date that can be pinpointed as to when and where hair art began, but it is known to have flourished in the Victorian times and can be traced back to the 12th century. Many pieces were for a memorial purpose; however this art form was also used as a keepsake of a loved one before cameras were invented. Hair was a token of love in these times as well as a remembrance of someone who passed away. The tradition of giving a lock of hair goes back hundreds, and even thousands of years and can be traced from different cultures as well as different time periods. Reliquaries are an example of this, and contain crushed bone fragments, hair or blood of a person.

The oldest brooch in the museum, with a piece of hair enclosed in a crystal case, was made in 1680. It arrived in the United States in the 1800s through a family in Sweden. The gentleman, who was the last of his bloodline, sold the brooch to the museum so future generations could admire the masterpiece.

There are neckpieces called sepia, which is a scene, painted with pulverized hair. There is one sepia piece that is a weeping willow tree made from a young woman’s hair who passed away at the age of 25. The scene of her husband weeping at her grave is painted with hair. When hair is pulverized into powder it can be mixed with paint and used as a medium for painting scenes.

Each piece of jewelry in the museum tells a story of why it was made. Sometimes it will have the name of the person as well as their birth date and death date. Other times, it will include many names and be used as a family tree for genealogy purposes in a wreath form.

The owner, Leila Cohoon, says she is very proud to be the keeper of these family treasures and is writing a book about the hair wreaths. It will be titled Hair/Genealogy because each piece tells the history of an entire family. There are many methods and techniques used in making hair art; however, there are no written instructions on how to make it. Once thought a lost art form, interest has been renewed since Leila began teaching classes on how to create the unique pieces of art. Leila has reverse-engineered the process and has discovered 35 techniques. Of the 35 techniques, Leila knows how to make 30 and is still working on the other 5.

The museum boasts some rare pieces of Americana. One such is a mourning brooch that contains a lock of hair from the great American statesman Daniel Webster, who many believe, played an important role in the forging of the United States of America. The brooch has 32 seed pearls around the woven locks of hair. The reverse is engraved “Daniel Webster Oct. 24, 1852” (the date of his death).

The hair wreaths, many in their original frames (hand carved or made of leather), are considered pieces of art. Families build their hair wreaths in a horseshoe shape so that more could be added as the family grew. There is even a wreath made using the hair of members of the League of Women Voters, dated 1865.

The pieces described above are only a fraction of what the museum contains. Many more wreaths, watch fobs, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, chains, brooches, hat pins, postcards, cuff links, rings, bookmarks, buttons, pictures and other interesting items made from human hair can be found. Leila enjoys wearing the jewelry and says she continues to increase her collection through donations, antique dealers, garage sales, auctions, estate sales, and people contacting her when they have heard of the museum through the media. Media about the museum can be found in countless magazines, newspapers, books and television news reports. It is known as a rare find worldwide.

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