Life Cut Short: Hamilton’s Hair and the Art of Mourning Jewelry

December 20, 2019 – May 10, 2020

As a token of love or a memorial to a lost loved one, human hair has long been incorporated into objects of adornment. Life Cut Short looks at the history of hair jewelry through a display of approximately 30 bracelets, earrings, brooches, and other accessories from New-York Historical’s collection, illustrating aspects of the fascinating history of hair jewelry as it manifested in New York. Because hair does not decompose, miniatures and other jewelry decorated with hair became symbolic of mourning, creating personal mementos that provided solace while also being fashionable and socially appropriate. 

Highlights of the installation are a gold mourning ring containing a lock of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s hair, clipped by his wife, Elizabeth, as a keepsake while he was on his deathbed; and a Tiffany & Co. mourning bracelet featuring hair, gold, silver, and diamonds (ca. 1854), one of many mourning goods sold by the famed New York City jeweler. Also on display is artist and naturalist John James Audubon’s hair, given to New-York Historical by his widow, Lucy Bakewell Audubon. (Curated by Debra Schmidt Bach, curator of decorative arts)

Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Seymour Neuman Endowed Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.



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Creative: Tronvig Group