Human hair frames an intimate window into grief, love at Mütter's Woven Strands exhibit

The exhibit runs through Sept. 6.

Shara Dae Howard
August 01, 2018 - 12:29 pm
Emily Snedden Yates, the Mutter Museum's special projects manager

Shara Dae Howard/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia introduced the Woven Strands exhibit in January, but visitors have until mid-September to see it.

Woven Strands, an exhibition of folk art using human hair, has roots reaching back to the 18th and 19th centuries, says Emily Snedden Yates, the museum's special projects manager. 

"The work in the show is recording people's lives, family tree, church congregation or simply a memorial to somebody," Snedden Yates said.

Woven Strands at the Mutter Museum
Shara Dae Howard/KYW Newsradio

As the Civil War death tolls grew, so did the popularity of hair art within the middle classes, complementary to embroidary and salon arts. But the Mütter exhibit reveals something truly special.

"What's really uinique about Woven Strands is that each work in the show has provenance, who made, when it was made, where and who it was made about," Yates said.

Hair art was created in domestic settings, for home display, as a sentimental expression of grief and love. Considered to be a form of portraiture, human hair from the living and the dead was used to make bouquets, jewelry, and painted images as tokens to preserve a loved one's memory, form a family tree, or  trade as a keepsake.

Hair from more than 200 individuals is woven into the collection of 60 pieces. The exhibit runs through Sept. 16.