Inside the Collection

Hair in Museums

Loose irregular spotted blouse on mannequin
85/649 Shirt, man’s, cotton / human hair, Cameroon, between about 1900 and 1925 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Why does hair appear in the most unlikely places?
Like this man’s shirt from the Cameroons.

Detailed image of Cameroon blouse of irregular hair placement
Detail 85/649 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Or worked into this unique needle lace panel from the 1600s.

Lace image of two women and baby with human hair used to represent hair in the image
A5335 Lace panel, “Judith and Holofernes”, needle lace, linen / silk / human hair, maker unknown, England, mid 1600s Collection: Powerhouse Museum

That hair has been readily available as a material is one answer.
Hair has also been an indicator of social status and religious function, a symbol of age and authority, a statement of style and an object of beauty and adornment.

In this lace panel it is used to add an element of realism to the figures.
The panel depicts the slaughter of Holofernes by Judith. Judith is the central figure as befits her heroic status. She is brandishing a sword in her right hand and holds Holofernes head by the hair in her left hand. Her maid holds a bag ready to receive the head. Behind Judith’s sword there appears to be a serpent. To her right Holofernes lies with silk ‘blood’ (once probably red, now pink) pouring from his severed neck. The hair on all their heads, and in Holofernes’ beard, is stitched with strands of human hair, a very rare occurence in lace making.

Growing it or depleting it, what we do with our hair has been a part of human grooming in many cultures and an important focus in rituals like weddings and funerals since ancient times.

Mourning or memorial jewellery has been worn since the middle ages and became popular in the 15th and 16th century in England. Until the 18th century it generally consisted of gold and black enamel with early examples in black and white often in the form of a skull.

During and after the Regency period 1795-1830 in England, chains ,rings, pendants and brooches were made from finely plaited hair from the head.

Gold pendant with hair making a design in the center of a pendant
2004/141/1 Mourning locket, gold / hairwork / seed pearls, made by John Wilkinson Jeweller & Silversmith, Leeds, England, 1826 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Another gem in our collection that refers to hair is this piece by Alan Peascod. We can all identify with a bad hair day as presented by Alan Peascod (1943-2007), an Australian ceramicist usually known for his Islamic inspired creations. This porcelain piece is inspired by his childhood memories reflecting a day where nothing will go right.

White sculpture of a man with irregular face and big hair
97/282/1 ‘Bad hair day’, porcelain, Alan Peascod, Bulli, NSW, 1997 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Some have taken an interest with hair to the edge of obsession, or perhaps have teetered over the edge. Make up your own mind. There are two Museums I have seen dedicated to hair, one in America and one in Turkey. I have to admit I find both slightly unsettling.

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