Find of the Week: Artful acknowledgements of the dead

News with a Twist
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NEW ORLEANS -- News with a Twist has teamed up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you a unique find each week from the museum's vaults.

This week, it's an artful acknowledgement of the dead.

People have a number of ways to remember a loved one who has passed away.

"We're looking at two hair work immortelles, which are keepsake momentos of a deceased loved one, and these came to the Historic New Orleans Collection in the 1950s, so they are some of the earliest pieces in our collections here," explained Sarah Duggan, Classical Institute of the South coordinator and research curator.

The world immortelle is French for permanent memorial. They were popular in the 19th Century and could be made from all sorts of things, from wax to threading, to something extra special.

"These are especially unique because they are made out of human hair, taken from the deceased person," Duggan said.

The people the hairs were originally attached to is a mystery, but they are from 1852 and 1875.

These immortelles are just a few of a once popular trend.

"The image of the weeping willow is something we see very frequently in memorial artwork, the woman draped in a veil mourning at the graveside and then this classical looking tomb is also something that was a motif that was very popular.  The second one is a different kind of style with the M initial," Duggan said.

The first Kodak camera wouldn't come until 1888. Immortelles were simply a part of the historic timeline of society moving toward widely accessible remembrance.

"Throughout human history people have found ways to creatively express their grief and process the loss of a loved one," Duggard said. "Especially at a time when disease was so prevalent.  So many people died from yellow fever and other diseases in New Orleans, and actually in Mark Twain's writings on the Mississippi, he noted the New Orleans tradition of placing immortelles on graves and remarked at what a unique sight.  He thought some of them were maybe a little ugly, but he did respect that this was an outpouring of emotion."

You can see all the Historic New Orleans Collection has to offer by visiting either one of their campuses. The Royal Street campus, including The Shop at The Collection, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Chartres Street campus, including the Williams Research Center and Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about the Historic New Orleans Collection here.


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