While working on my Curator’s Corner article for our next newsletter, I came across a wonderful find tucked safely away in the Museum’s collections. The collections database record describes two pieces from the same donor as “decorative papers in folder of hair samplers - art keepsake” and “various sizes and shapes of hands - in folder - art keepsake.” I was surprised and delighted to discover that these two folders contain hundreds of locks of hair and each one has a name!
In the second folder, each piece of hair is attached to a cutout handprint that includes a name, date, and town, and sometimes the age of the person and a short poem about friendship. While some hands are loose in the folder, most of them are attached to sheets of paper. Many of the pages are still bound together. There are nearly 270 hands in total. From 1882 to 1912 Jenifer Bosworth collected these handprints and locks of hair from men, women and children from the ages of only 25 days to adulthood. Most of the people are from this area – Elmira, Southport, Wellsburg, Chemung, Waverly, Towanda, Wilawana, Sayre – but there are also some from farther afield – Albany, Boston, Brooklyn, Newburgh, and even England.
I am delighted to have found such treasures in the Museum’s collection but, like all truly interesting pieces, these two folders open up more questions than they answer. Who was Jenifer Bosworth? How did she come to know so many people of all different ages from around the region and beyond? What inspired her to start a collection that would come to span thirty years? We may never get any of these answers but more research and examination are certainly in store for these fabulous historic finds.
See more about these wonderful pieces and other hair items from the Museum’s collection on our webpage in the virtual exhibit, The Art and Memory of Hair.