Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kristen: Does your hairwork piece have real human hair in it? Maybe...

Let me just say that any conversation that challenges the status quo of a long held belief is cool, so long as it has its basis in research. I've been told that the art of research is a life-long process, one that a true historian enjoys with laughter and tears. Whether I am wrong or right matters little; the discussion will make collectors and amateurs alike reexamine their current research, which benefits everyone.

Recently I've had a bit of a discussion about hairwork, especially the weaving in brooches. I have a few pieces, and was told that at least one was not made of hair, but silk. It terrified me to think that I could be talking about these brooches, saying that they have real hair in them and...nothing. I'm the type who likes to dig, so here are a few of the things I've found, and the process that got me here.

For those of you who know Glenna Jo, you recognize her personality in an instant. I see a bit of myself in her, with the drive to know authenticity. She still does public speaking engagements, but for the most part she enjoys spending time with her husband looking at antique treasures. Well-known within the reenacting community, she has recently begun sharing bits of knowledge to our Tuesday sewing group. Fast forward to the day I brought in my hair collection, when she pointed out that one of the pieces was actually silk, without a bit of hair. Needless to say I was shocked! None of my previous research had mentioned it (only that it was done in the "usual manner"). I stopped buying hairwork pieces that I couldn't completely authenticate, and I left it at that.

Now, in my fourth season of reenacting, I've been tasked with helping newer members of the 21st Michigan get started. It weighs heavy on me, as my advice can mean the difference between hundreds of dollars of farby or authentic gear. The hairwork question bothered me again, as I noticed people buying expensive pieces on ebay, seemingly without authentication. I imagined how angry I would be if I found out the truth later! Now for the hard part-challenging what I had been told by experts.

It's really scary, as a sort of newbie, to challenge others who have been reenacting for much longer. No one wants to feel stupid, and making a comment that certain hairwork jewelry might not be hair at all, well that's a big statement. Especially since a person might invest his/her entire career in jewelry! But I also think hoarding this type of information is wrong, especially for buyers. I put out my feelers on Facebook, but still didn't get a definitive answer. I needed to bring in more research. I did find one picture that could be seen as that fine weaving, but not really. A closer examination will show a normal weave, not the too tight one that I'm discussing in this post:
Take a closer look here

As I said before, books/magazines from the 19th century are surprisingly cryptic in their instructions. I've yet to find written proof that silk was used. Already at a disadvantage, I had to ask people who would definitely know more-those brave souls who dare crack open an original! I went back to Glenna Jo and asked her a few questions...

Stop #1: Glenna Jo

My original source, the first to cast doubt on the jewelry. I just had to talk to her! Our conversation veered in so many directions, but in terms of the hairwork brooches, she was certain: the "perfectly" woven hair is more often than not a bit of fabric. The weave resembled that of silk, and to me it looks a lot like this (the second one is from my personal collection):

Is it impossible that hair could be woven that finely? It seems that way to me, though I might be influenced by the fact that I actually tried it and it was incredibly difficult. According to Glenna, it didn't make sense that the Victorians would want a basic design for such an intricate piece. Why would they want a weave that looks just like fabric? Also, hair generally has different colored strands (all at once) and my hairwork is all identical. Every strand in place, not a single varying color. A little too much like the twins from The Shining, if you ask me. Could a jeweler do this? Probably. But who would ask for it?

Glenna notes that there were so many styles to pick from, so much to personalize for a single brooch. Braiding certainly stands out, but this isn't quite braiding, it's weaving. I know if I was sending in money for a hairwork piece, I might choose something a bit more complex or interesting:

Glenna adds that "accuracy is not an end goal, it's a process." She brought up a few times in the past when she had thought she was correct, only to be proved wrong later. Working through research is time-consuming, as I would soon find out. I asked about where Glenna had first heard about the fabric backing, and she brought up quite a few names, including Ruth Gordon. Apparently she had heard the tidbit about 20 years ago at what would become The Ladies and Gentleman's Conference. All I had was a on to the next source...

Stop #2 Ruth Gordon

Googling "Ruth Gordon" alone shows nothing useful. If you type "Ruth Gordon hairwork," a broken link from shows a bio. This lady sounds like she knows her stuff, but the page looks old. Another search brings up her store "Cherished Memories," with a phone number! Unfortunately the phone number is wrong, but the man was very helpful and somehow I got to talking with Ruth. And let me just say, I like Ruth. We share a mutual interest and...Michigan. We both live in Michigan.
Photo from Victorian Hairwork

I asked about fabric backing pieces of hairwork, and how to tell if it was real hair. She says that hair is not perfect, that it should be apparent that a material is hair under a microscope. Lines would probably have some slight imperfection, probably not too straight, unless it was done very finely by a professional. Even then, strands should be somewhat visible. She adds that all different types and weaves of fabric were used for backing the brooches; the material was much better for holding a grip on the hair.
Photo from Victorian Hairwork

In our conversation she recalled how she had seen some pieces sold that were not actually hair at all, and that the only way to tell was to take it apart, as she had done so often. My favorite quote from her? "Be common-sensical." It is the job of the buyer to truly understand the purchase, an idea I've heard brought up often when a reenactor goes hunting down sutler row. But what if the seller doesn't know either? The only way to be sure was to take it apart! I had to keep searching...

Ruth did give me several other places to go. She mentioned Leila's Hair Museum as a stop along my research path, with a website I had previously visited. Unsure about how I would contact anyone, we finished talking. Seriously, Ruth is quite a peach, and I'm excited to hear that she plans on rejoining the world of hairwork. Expect more posts about her in the future! On to my next bit of research...

***Recent Addition***
Ruth has confirmed that this is made from fabric, as the edges are frayed. I see so many pieces online just like this, and people think it is real hair! I am going back and checking my collection...

Stop #3 Leila Cohoon

Leila was much easier to find, with a phone number right on her website! I was just as shocked when Leila herself answered the phone; I asked her about the silk backing of a brooch, and she knew immediately about the nature of my question. It seems that many people have tried to sell her inauthentic hair! 
Seriously, how could you lie to this woman??

Leila continues with Ruth's idea that people have tried to pass off unfinished pieces as hair. She takes it a step further, saying that in the years she has been opening up brooches, any piece that was questionable has turned out to not have real hair. If it is too fine, too perfect, it probably isn't hair, only the backing. There's a good chance that the woven square-looking stuff was silk or other fabric. Leila seems to agree with Ruth that the only way to tell is if it is opened.

I liked the confidence in her voice and that might be because she has examined thousands of hairwork pieces. Not just looked, but taken apart and tested for authenticity. I don't think there is another person in the U.S. with her experience of hairwork in all its forms. It is useful to add that she opened her own cosmetology school, and in her words: "You can't fool a hairdresser." When this woman is doubtful of so many pieces, it might be a good idea to follow suit! 

Leila was incredibly helpful and I was grateful that she was willing to talk to me for so long. It is obvious that this woman knows her stuff; I feel more confident that fabric can pass as hair. Leila mentioned a few names, and Lucy Cadwallader came up. This was a name that reenactors trusted, so I bid the (wonderful) Leila adieu. On to my next point of research...

Stop #4 Lucy Cadwallader

Again, I ran into some difficulties finding her number. After awhile I found it, but not after calling a few wrong numbers. Lucy's website boasts her beautiful work, and I was excited to speak to her! 

Lucy brought up the fear that many women shared from the time period; pieces sent to jewelers might be made from a different source of hair simply because it was easier. That would be terrible! Perhaps a loved one had died, or was gone for a long journey. Such fraud scares me as well, hence this long, drawn-out post!

Lucy agrees with Ruth and Leila that the only way to discover the truth would be to open up the original piece. She adds that sometimes they used embossed paper as a backing, but fabric too. Sometimes jewelers made samples of a piece with animal hair to show what hairwork would look like under glass, which would then be replaced later with human hair. Lucy said it was possible to achieve such a tight weave of hair in a brooch piece, but also added this warning: "It is buyer your research!" Without an example in front of her it was hard for her to be specific about pieces lacking hair, though she did say that she had opened many an original piece. If opened carefully, there should no be damage to the work. 

End of the Road: Conclusions?

Without analysis by any of the women, it seems that I can't definitely say whether certain pieces are silk or hair. I did find common threads (haha) amongst the words of all the women during my brief questioning:

1. "Hair" brooches without hair have been sold, advertised incorrectly.
2. Silk/other fabric was used as backing for hairwork brooches.
3. If it looks a little too perfect, there's a good chance it might be fabric.
4. If you want to know for sure, you have to open it.
5. People get upset when they find out an original does not have real hair.

Of course I still have a ton of questions. I've seen inside a few brooches recently, and it looks like thread to me. How would I know for sure? I'm not at home to crack open my originals, something I would totally have already done in the name of historical research! I do have more information coming, as Ruth will be sending me pictures of the fabric backing that she has found (many types), which will help. I can't wait! It's like a kid waiting for Christmas, except I'm an adult and it's research so...whatever. 

As more information surfaces, I will go back and revise this post. I shudder at those stories of reenactors who don't evolve, that simply stay stuck in their ways because it is easier (Rainbow Snoods!). If I'm wrong I'll tell you and move on, because historical research is a process, a journey with many winding twists and turns. When this ride stops being fun, I'll get off and let someone with more energy continue. And through it all...

Stay Gold Ponyboy!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kristen: Volunteering at Safe Haven on St. Maarten

So I have survived the past week with no major mishaps! Seriously though, this island is absolutely stunning, and a post about its beauty will be coming soon. That post will have to wait, since something much more personal and recent has happened. This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer with AUC medical students at Safe Haven, the only women's shelter on the entire island. It was a humbling experience, to say the least.

This issue hits close to home for me in so many different ways. My mother is a social worker, and I grew up listening to the stories of pain and abuse that she had witnessed. Some of them would end up in the newspapers, with my mother's name championing the rights of her children. She went to court often, and I even sneaked a peek at some of her documents; the horror of domestic abuse sounded painfully cold. I have volunteered in her office too, though I had little contact with any of her clients.

As an adult I've worked with students who have been abused, even filed a report on a case. Part of my career as a teacher is to be a mandatory reporter-if I think a child is in danger, I have to react or I could lose my job. I listened to more stories, this time from the victims themselves. It's hard to hear the suffering of someone that you care about, but if they did want to talk, I had to let them work through it. Part of me wants to take them all home and take care of them like they are my own children. I worry about them over the summer, worry that they will be okay until fall.

The volunteer experience here on the island was unlike any other. One thing to keep in mind is that St. Maarten has such a gap in the quality of life of its people. Right now I type in a comfortable, air-conditioned room with the promise of delicious dinner in a few hours. Many people on the island live in 3rd world conditions, just a few miles from where I am. I feel like a spoiled brat when I complain about the bugs or heat (but seriously, those spiky plants are downright dangerous!).

We left early in the morning to a secret location on the island. Thirteen of us piled into the van wearing painting clothing-we were given the task of painting the walls of Safe Haven. We traveled down the winding roads to a place I couldn't find again with a map. I don't want to say much about the location, because the possibility of an abusive husband looking for his wife has already happened. Let's just say I had no idea where I was.

Nearly everyone started to prepare the rooms for painting, though I found myself drawn to the children. A few tagged along, following us and getting underfoot. I grabbed the one nearest to me and took her up to the play room, with the rest of them following soon after. Two other AUC students and I entertained the children for the better part of the day. We painted faces, cleaned off toys, and sat and listened to them speak. I found myself holding the two youngest as they fussed; I held one at a time as I rocked them to sleep. 

Perhaps the hardest part about being with the children was noticing the signs of abuse. Burns, cuts, and scars are the easiest to spot, as they are a physical manifestation of the pain. The emotional signs are much worse, as they show a deeper connection to abuse. Thumb sucking, outbursts, and clinginess are just a few that I saw. Remember those babies that fell asleep in my arms? They clutched at me as hard as they could, with a desperation I never want to see in a child again. I can't imagine the cruel person that would hurt an infant, as it makes me too angry to think.

I did get a chance to do some painting, though eventually we had to leave. My fiancee had coordinated the painting effort, and they nearly finished a number of rooms. The women that volunteer at Safe Haven shared their plans for upcoming renovations, as it was badly needed in some parts of the house. They are such amazing individuals! Sherwin Williams helped sponsor the event, and we all received t-shirts. We were both exhausted when this picture was taken, can you tell?

Before we left, the women made each of us a little grab bag of food, and I had my first taste of authentic island cooking. The potato salad was amazing; the rice rivaled my grandmother's recipe. And the cooked chicken could not have been real, it was that good. In my family, food is a representation of love. I can see it is no different here!

I was so wiped out from the day-the physical and emotional work was astounding. If you're interested in donating to Safe Haven, you can do so here online. They also have the address in the website if you're looking to donate tangible goods. I can say that every bit will be used for basic necessities; food, clothing, and shelter for the women and their children. I'm going to put together something for the children before I leave because there were so few toys or art supplies. Of all the things on this earth, they should be able to play!

Let's just say this vacation is turning into something more!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kristen: 5 ways that St. Maarten attempted to kill me my first day here...

For those of you who are unaware of my current whereabouts, let me bring you up to speed-I am living in St. Maarten (Dutch side) with my fiancee as he attends AUC for medical school. I'm lucky enough to have my summer off, so most of my time will be spent in this lush vacation spot in the Caribbean. The perfect island getaway. What could possibly go wrong?
Pictured: Tropical Paradise with my breakfast...

1. I was nearly murdered before I even landed
I want you to think about how scary the whole flying experience can be. White knuckles, gum chomping, the whole nine yards. I considered myself a bit of a veteran when it comes to plane rides, so imagine my shock when I suffered cardiac arrest during this landing.
Not Pictured: Passengers peeing themselves

The Princess Juliana Airport can be found on many lists, none of them soothing for the traveler. "Dangerous," "Extreme," and "Hazardous" are just a few of the adjectives. With its incredibly short runway and jigsaw-looking buildings, I can honestly say that I was frightened. And don't forget about the mountain range at the other end of the runway....

2. They let M.C. Escher design the stairs
After surviving that terrifying landing, I firmly planted both feet on the ground, knowing that the true danger had passed. JUST KIDDING!!! I tripped and fell and nearly died. Apparently stairs just aren't the same here...
The inspiration for Crazy Stairs 

I watched my Dad grumble about building codes when he refinished the basement, but never did I think such seemingly unimportant statutes could be so important. In the United States there are specific requirements when building stairs because people will (obviously) hurt themselves. Evidently I've been spoiled by such rules that require uniformity and safety.
I feel a broken ankle coming on...

The threshold into the apartment has a tiny, 1 inch step that I've tripped on as soon as I arrived. I'll admit that I'm fairly clumsy already, though adding another obstacle on my path makes any journey a serious undertaking here on the island. I should have packed hiking boots.
Here's the walk from the living room to the bathroom!

3. All that is Lush is Evil
After surviving the first few hours (my beloved fiancee might have to carry me around), I poked my head out of the apartment to see a wonderful sight! Bright flowers brought a fragrant, deliciously sweet taste to the air. Out of curiosity I approached the greenery, convinced that someone might offer me an apple that I would eat without question. That could never be a problem, right?
Naive Kristen admires the plant life 
She steps closer, hand outstretched
 Her fiancee watches in horror... she gives blood sacrifice to the satanic blooms

Again my spoiled self got owned by St. Maarten. In Michigan, such dreadful plants are obviously ostracized. Here, they are celebrated and planted along most of the walkways into buildings. The take-home message here is to not touch anything, especially pretty things. Because they will kill you.
If I see a snake, I'm going to lose it

4. Big surprises come in tiny packages
As our dangerous trek continued (about 100 feet away from the apartment), I felt an itch. With my non-bleeding hand I felt a small bump rise on my thigh, itching worse than an elementary school with a lice outbreak. As the earth swallowed more of my precious blood, my medically inclined fiancee informed me of the delight that is chikungunya.
Oh look! More of Kristen's blood! Yum!

The virus was first discovered in Africa in the 1950's, and has spread to much of the world. Mosquitos carry the infection to each host, leaving behind an adorable present. A feverishly arthritic gift just for me! Oh thank you island gods!
I'm in bed #5

While chikungunya is not fatal, it leaves behind an ugly rash with possible long-term joint problems. The pain is agonizing, somewhat disabling its victims. My fiancee had the unique opportunity to survey the St. Maarten population during the December 2013 outbreak (check it out on Wikipedia). Between the hours of 3 and 7pm, everyone here pretty much agrees to throw caution to the wind and put themselves at risk. Bug spray is definitely the island scent!

5. The Shower of Death
By nightfall I knew I was suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress. Every step was calculated, every plant avoided like the plague. I wore more bug spray than a teenage boy wears Axe. As I prepared to wash off the blood, sweat (and more blood) from the day, my fiancee warned me to be careful. I wondered at that statement, since we were in the safety of the apartment. Silly me.

I was lulled into a false sense of security by the warm, gentle water: my greatest mistake. As I reached to adjust the temperature, I felt the pain of a thousand bee stings jab my palm. After staring at my angry red hand, I realized the culprit. Apparently, the piping for the shower head gets incredibly hot on one side. Like satan eating peppers hot. With my good hand I turned off the water and limped to bed. Crying. My salty tears stung the wounds on my fingers, but I didn't care. I had earned a good cry.

Overall, I'd say it has been an exciting vacation. I'll let you know what finally kills me.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kristen: Greenfield Village 2014

This post is definitely coming a little late. With the mad end-of-the-year rush, as well as preparations for an amazing summer, I found the keyboard to be a bit in, I was too exhausted to dedicate any time to anything.
This year did turn out quite excellent, as usual. It's hard to imagine a Civil War reenactment at Greenfield Village that isn't a success! So many perfect moments, such a precious time to enjoy them. Also, another wonderful thing...seeing my little projects show up in my fellow reenactors' impressions! My stitchery and jewelry came out in true form over the weekend. My sewing basket as well as my new silk chatelaine added nicely to my impression! The dainty red silk purse was a bonus!

This year I had less family/friends visiting, so I was able to take a closer look at the 19th century fashion display. The wrapper was stunning, and I literally drooled at the thought of one of the sheers. I don't often have the opportunity to see period pieces up close and personal (though pinterest is totally awesome...). There's a little green box in the accessories section that I want to try to make at some point this summer, though it will be more complicated than my usual box.

You'll never guess who I ran into at the fashion display! You may recognize Samantha McCarty and Katie Jacobs from their blogs! It was lovely to meet my fellow bloggers, especially in such a research-oriented place. Of course I would love to plan an historical bloggers conference at some point, but I've been told I shovel too much onto my plate already. Does someone else want to plan it???

On Saturday night we all participated in a reflection ceremony, which called for us to bring candles onto the field in honor of the Memorial Day festivities. While I couldn't capture the beautiful moment, I was able to pose just a bit before with my lantern. So here I am, totally rocking this lantern. Who knew I could make a lantern look this good?

Amid the hustle and bustle of the weekend, I did get to spend a bit of time with my plump little goddaughter. Seriously she is getting way too cute for her own good. Becky had her in period clothes, just adorable! Cynthia's quite strong for her age too, and oh so wiggly! One day I will totally tell this child made-up stories about her amazing strength, possibly convincing her of a bloodline with Superman.

To be honest, it's hard to pick my favorite moment of the weekend. Oh wait, I've got it. Mrs. Cook, laundress extraordinaire, washed a set of my underclothes and delivered them to my tent tied with a neat red cord. Do you know how good clean underclothing feels. DO YOU!?!

Oh yes. Another wonderful Greenfield Village weekend. 


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...