Are you familiar with mourning jewelry? I did not know much about the topic until I attended a lecture at The Mystic Museum in Burbank, California, presented by Hayden Peters, the scholar behind the project Art of Mourning. He gave a fascinating talk about the history of these sentimental pieces throughout the centuries showing photos of these relics, some from his personal collection. I’m going to share with you a few highlights and pictures of the evening.
Hayden Peters hails from Australia and is a historian, lecturer and collector specializing in mourning jewelry. Art of Mourning was established in 2005. It is a culmination of 10 years of thorough research by Peters, tracing the history of mourning jewelry from 1550 to 1920 in Europe, particularly England. One of the intriguing bits of information he imparted with us is that he has curated a piece of mourning jewelry from each period his dissertation covers. He no longer procures additional pieces explaining that he feels his collection is complete with what he has been able to accumulate over the years. His jewelry has been exhibited in museums and showcased in the media.
During the talk, the academic tracked the rise and fall of this jewelry-making industry. He first took us back to the 16th century describing how mourning jewelry began to take form in society and its purpose. From there he progressed to the Baroque and Rococo period (early 17th to mid-18th centuries), Neoclassicism (1760-1820), the Gothic Revival, the Victorians (1860-1901), then concluded with the remaining years up until 1920.
There was a wealth of information he covered. It was astounding to learn how these pieces flourished and to see how the styles of mourning jewelry evolved as time moved forward. For instance, early creations featured skulls and skeletal figures, making the death aspect more obvious. Then you have ornate designs and hair weaving incorporated later. Peters also discussed mourning jewelry’s place in fashion during these centuries and how royalty set the trend for how it was worn.
There was plenty of knowledge I came away with after attending this session. One of the sentiments Hayden Peters expressed that resonated with me is that mourning jewelry is not just about death. These sentimental objects were not intended to be morbid or depressing, but it can easily be misconstrued that way because of what they are named. Mourning jewelry is instead meant to be a keepsake that reminds us of our departed loved ones. This is quite apparent with pieces that contain the deceased’s lock of hair. It is a way of keeping someone we have lost near to us. There is a romantic quality to this nature of jewelry and it was a beautiful art form.
Hayden Peters is currently on his Art of Mourning tour that will take him to various destinations around the world. The Los Angeles event I attended kicked off his run in America, so I’m happy I was able to be a part of that! You can find out where he’s headed next, as well as more on the topic of mourning jewelry at his official website.
There is also an Art of Mourning Patreon page for those interested in funding this historical endeavor.