University of Illinois at Chicago
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"This Memento Strangely Fair": Hairwork Jewelry in America

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posted on 2012-12-13, 00:00 authored by Deanna R. Ledezma
This thesis explores the emotional and cultural dimensions of hairwork jewelry in nineteenth-century America, investigates the connections shared between hairwork jewelry and wearer, and analyzes how hair acquired its sentimental significance in American culture. Whether composed of hair from a living or deceased person, hairwork jewelry served as a tangible memory object that physically and emotionally linked together loved ones. Through the evocative sensory experience of wearing, touching, and viewing hairwork jewelry, individuals conjured the memory of absent loved ones embodied in hairwork. Through an analysis of how the design and construction of hairwork jewelry changed over the course of the nineteenth century, this thesis considers how the precious substance of hair, in a variety of ornamental forms, stimulated remembrance and contemplation. By tracing the origins of photographic hairwork jewelry to the late-eighteenth-century watercolor portrait miniature with hairwork, this study uncovers the desire Americans felt for a memory object containing “dual likenesses” of a loved one: a pictorial representation and a fragment of hair. A comparison of photographic hairwork jewelry and the watercolor miniature with hairwork demonstrates how the pairing of portrait and hair generated a potent memory object with a strong emotional resonance.



Pollak, Martha


Art History

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Masters

Committee Member

Mekinda, Jonathan Dubin, Nina

Submitted date



  • en

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