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We have a few pieces of hair art in our collection that date back to the late 1800s. You might be thinking, "Did I read that correctly? Does the Shelby County Historical Museum actually have hair art in its collection? Did people in the 1800s not have yarn to use instead?"
Yes, as shocking as it sounds, we do have hair art in our collection. This piece of hair art was made by Mrs. Mary Lawrence of Portsmouth, Iowa. Mary was born on May 4, 1860 and died June 27, 1936; at some point within her lifetime she created this piece of hair art.
Hair art became popular in America during the 1860s. After Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861 she kept a lock of his hair in a locket. Hair art was widely used for two reasons, to solidify a friendship or to remember a loved one. While there were other materials artists utilized when creating their work hair was more than a medium because it was a sign of intimacy between two people.
Hair was commonly used to create jewelry or hair wreaths. Hair jewelry could be lockets filled with hair or rings made from hair. Just as Queen Victoria wore her late husband's hair in a locket, Americans also wore the hair of a loved one in a locket to remember them. Close friends might make rings out of each other's hair, like friends who exchange friendship bracelets today.
Hair wreaths were much larger than their symbolic counterpart, lockets filled with hair. While both remembered a loved one who had most likely passed away, hair wreaths required hair from three to four people. Hair wreaths were made in the shape of a 'U' to symbolize their loved one's ascent to heaven. In the photograph of the hair wreath you can see the different colors; this is because the different hair was collected from multiple people or dyed.
The practice of creating and having hair art may seem outdated and unusual now. Through technology such as photographs, videos, and voicemail we are able to remember our loved ones differently.
Our museum has two full-time staff members the Executive Director and the Grants and Development Coordinator. We are so thankful for the work that they do to help our museum run. Today Lauren Jones is sharing a little about herself so you can get to know her more!
Meet Lauren Jones
Grants and Development Coordinator
Grants and Development Coordinator
I was born and raised in Iowa. While my family lived in a small town, my parents wanted my siblings and I to experience cities as well. Each summer we would take a road trip to a new city. To pass the time on these road trips my dad would quiz my siblings and I on mental math problems. I quickly realized that math did not come naturally to me, instead I enjoyed the museums we would visit once we reached our destination.
I have always been interested in history; when I went to college, I decided to major in Event Management because I wanted to work with people. Yet, after starting the program I was unsure if I wanted to plan events for a living. I flipped back and forth between majors my first two years at Iowa State. I finally decided I should take a class I enjoyed, so I took a class about European history. This class encouraged me to change my major to History with a minor in Event Management.
My favorite part of history is that there is always something to learn. I joined the Shelby County Historical Museum in May of 2020. Each day has taught me new things about the unique history of Shelby County and I am able to work with people everyday.
Since moving to Shelby County I have found new hobbies. If I am not at work, I am most likely walking my dog Kevin, cooking, or doing DIY projects around my house.
Stop by the museum and say hello!
Our museum has two full-time staff members the Executive Director and the Grants and Development Coordinator. We are so thankful for the work that they do to help our museum run. Today Sarah McDonald is sharing a little about herself so you can get to know her more!
Meet Sarah McDonald, our Executive Director
I joined the staff of the Shelby County Historical Museum as the Executive Director in April 2018. I have loved getting to know the community and learning about the rich history of Shelby County.
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by learning about the daily lives of regular people. This interest led to me earn a B. A. in Anthropology from Texas Tech University with minors in History and French. I then went on to earn a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and an M.A. in History with a concentration in Museum Studies. My research interests have generally focused on New England and Great Plains Native American history and culture. I am also interested in the history and culture of the Cold War period, particularly the role of American women in the 1950s and 1960s.
I have a deep passion for curating exhibitions, and few things make me quite as excited as finding the perfect finishing detail for an exhibit. A couple of my favorite examples are object identification tags that give importation information, while blending into the background of an immersive exhibit. Keep an eye out for future Curator’s Corner blog posts where I’ll take you behind the scenes as I do what I love most!
When I am not working at the museum, you'll often find me visiting other museums and historic houses – occasionally making security guards anxious by getting up close and personal with exhibits. I love to study the construction of displays!
I also love to rock climb, bake, and spend evenings at the local bowling alley with my Ladies League team!
OUTSIDE HISTORICAL LINKS
Shelby County GenWeb Project
Harlan Newspapers Digital Archives
Past/Present of Shelby County v.1
Past/Present of Shelby County v.2
Pioneer Cemetery Association
Historic Downtown Harlan Walking Tour
Who We Are
The Shelby County Historical Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1964. This four building complex is located at 1805 Morse Avenue Harlan, Iowa 51537.