People viewing these items from the Victorian era usually have one or both of these reactions: "Wow!" or "Eeew!"
The outright beauty of them, as well as the time and patience it takes to make them, evokes the "wow." The fact that they are made from human hair brings the "eeew."
Commonly, Victorian hair wreathes were part of mourning. People kept hair wreathes as tokens of their loved ones. Every individual's hair, like fingerprints, is uniquely their own.
For centuries people have saved hair from both the living and those who had passed, and wove it into tiny works of art.
The Victorians expanded on this, weaving, tatting or crocheting their loved ones hair, both living and deceased, into larger works of art.
Hair was still woven into small pieces of jewelry including as brooches, bracelets, rings, watch fobs and buttons.
The practice was similar to the later custom of carrying a piece of hair in a locket as a token from a loved one. In doing so, a person always had with them a part of someone they cared for.
This person could be physically close, or far away whether it be by distance or death.
The large wreathes were usually from many small items from numerous family members, both living and passed on. Women often saved their own hair after brushing into "hair receivers." When they had collected enough, they crafted it into small flowers which they often gave to someone as a gesture of love. Over the years, or even decades, these tiny treasures accumulated and handcrafters twisted or sewed them around a circular wire form.
When making wreathes from ones who had died, generally the artist placed the most recently deceased person's hair toward the center. When another loved one died, they placed that person's hair in the center and moved the hair that had been in the center outward. Hair was usually from different individuals, so wreathes consisted of hair of many colors and textures.
Often they left wreathes open at the top to symbolize those who have died rising to heaven.
If a good written or oral history was kept, and along with the family Bible, a family hair wreath made up the family tree. In many cases they wrote the names of individuals contributing hair on the wreath's backing.
Sometimes wreathes were constructed for happier occasions. Church groups and school classes gathered hair from their members and made wreathes documenting and commemorating their organizations.
Boot Hill Museum has some hair wreathes in its collection. Currently none are on display. However, the Museum will feature one of the nicest ones in its new exhibits.