Victorian culture was romantically fascinated with death, giving rise to an entire transatlantic culture dedicated to death and the art of mourning. In New Orleans, more widespread Victorian practices complemented pervading local customs for the observance of death. This item is one product of that cultural synthesis.
In the nineteenth century, the rise of the middle class stimulated material culture, leading to the proliferation of “fancywork,” handmade items used to decorate home parlors. It became a point of pride for Victorian housewives to produce fancywork for their homes or as gifts, although they could also be purchased from artisans. Many items were made from the hair of the creator or intended recipient, taking the sentimentality and intimacy of fancywork one step further.
Naturally, the Victorian preoccupation with death also inspired fancywork. These handmade commemorative items, known as immortelles, were left at gravesites or kept in the home as a memento mori. Immortelles were particularly popular in New Orleans, where they could be purchased in local markets, either from local craftsmen or imported from France. Hair immortelles were made from the hair of the deceased and glued to a glass background, to be hung in the home. The hair was carefully arranged to spell out a name or depict an allegorical image, as in this piece, which shows a tomb with a symbolic weeping willow in the background. The French inscription, “ici repose mon père,” translates to “here lies my father,” indicating the subject of the dedication and most likely the owner of the hair.
Citation 1: 
1800s; hair on glass
Citation 2: 
1957.124.30, gift of Harold Schilke
Accession #: 
Ashton Robinson, student, Tulane University