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Artifact of the Month: Weaving Our Way through Life, The Anthony Family Hair Wreath
Posted by Marla on May 22, 2012
I’m a bit intrigued with the Victorian era. In school I was drawn to the heighted drama depicted in Pre-Raphaelite paintings—lush jewel-tone colors, damsels in distress posing as if they were on the cover of a modern romance novel. And let’s face it: those Victorians liked weird stuff. Take for instance, another of my favorite artifacts in the MAH’s collection, the Anthony Family hair wreath.
Hair wreaths were made during Victorian times (the years from 1837-1901) to commemorate members of a certain family who had passed away. The women of the family were in charge of making the wreath. The Anthony family has its roots in Santa Cruz beginning in 1848 with the arrival of Elihu Anthony, who invented the first California-made cast iron plows and the first miners’ picks used during the Gold Rush. Jessie Gourley, another Anthony relative, was a local school teacher and amateur genealogist. She conducted oral histories before it was popular, and transcribed the childhood memories of her mother, Sarah.
Last fall a woman named Patty Cullen, who is a relative of the Anthony Family, emailed me and asked if the MAH had any information on the Gourleys. I told her what we had in archives, and I also mentioned the Anthony Family hair wreath. We made plans for her to visit. When we reconnected this spring, I was happy to tell her that the wreath was out of collection storage and on display in our current exhibition, “All You Need is Love.”
Patty and her relatives came to the MAH, and I took a photo of them by their family’s hair wreath. I loved seeing them connect with this artifact from the past, guessing how long it took to make, and wondering who the redhead in the family was. As I looked at these four women I imagined their counterparts 150 years ago, sitting in a parlor quickly working on a braid, manipulating strands of human hair as they talked about everyday life, or remembered someone whose hair they were arranging into floral shapes. Maybe an odd scene to our 21st century minds, but isn’t it somewhat like joining a monthly book group, hanging out with friends after work, or playing guitars with your childhood buddy? All the ways we connect with each other, weaving our way through life.