Dr. Davis’ Brainstorming for her Visual Rhetoric Paper, v. 1-?

If I were going to write a visual rhetoric paper for this class, I would probably write about the macramé bouquet of hair I showed in the shadowbox in class.

These are the notes/outline/questions I brainstormed.

Thesis: The macramé bouquet of hair that was created as a mourning symbol when my family lost great-great-great-grandmother Schroeder is a testament to the Victorian value on family, my family’s focus on heritage, and my own inability to dispose of my mother’s treasures. Too much a narrative and not enough of an analysis of visual rhetoric.

This is a tear bottle, lachrymatory, from the Victorian era. Used to catch tears to spill on grave.

I would discuss the cultural associations regarding mourning during the Victorian era, my wider family’s focus on maintaining the physical remnants of their heritage and how that is very evident in this unusual shadowbox, and my own experience as custodian and caretaker of my immediate family’s family archival “treasures.” Too much narrative. Yes, I can talk about the cultural associations. Maybe I can divide those?

Introduction:
funeral museum in Houston (Goth photography, friends, historical interest)
recognition of similar artifacts
experience explaining/discussing with my mother the shadowbox (and picture) This all still will work.

Description
Physical description of the bouquet (incorporate a photograph into the text?) and what it represents. How we know. Who it can’t be. Who it probably is. Why we know that. That it is probably re-framed. Why I know that. Description of the picture that accompanies it. This all still will work. I can also add that it was before 1890, since that is when my Great-Grama Rill was born and since she had red hair and there is no red hair here, the bouquet has to be from before that. Great-aunt Nell could have been born, but she had brown hair–not a distinctive color of brown either. So I don’t know.

Victorian era mourning practices
cultural associations
why mourning? –Queen Victoria
why hair? –I don’t know. Should I research or tell what I already know? Depends on time and interest level I have in the project.
why a bouquet? –reminiscent of funereal wreaths which were placed on doors and on graves
why a shadowbox? –public mourning

Family focus on physical heritage
mother—only person left in her family
grandmother—only child in that generation
great-grandmother—only person with a child in that generation
great-great-grandmother—grew up on stories of coming to the new world
What physical heirlooms? German Lady Mary, silver and amethyst ring, mourning bouquet and pictures, black pin with seed pearls (thought wedding, more likely mourning), wedding vases (1910s, possibly earlier)—some of the dishes that weren’t given away by my sister
Other? Grandmother’s art—the black horse from g-g-grandmother’s mother’s stories of immigration
Grandmother’s collection of art—Indian jewelry, great uncle saved by Supai tribe
photographs—from the late 1800s, early 1900s
Why is this particular heirloom unusual/important in my family’s focus on physical heritage?

My experience as caretaker/custodian
My mother died two years ago. This past February my father sold their home and downsized significantly.
All the photographs that were “family” were given to me because

 

  1. No one else wanted them.
  2. They wanted someone to keep them.
  3. They wanted someone to archive them and create a record.

The physical heirlooms came to me. I have the ring from when I was 9. The doll my father gave to me. The mourning bouquet and picture my mother gave me. I have my great-grandmother’s wedding dishes and my grandmother’s wedding dishes. (My sister has my great-aunt’s wedding dishes and the wedding vases.)
Many things disappeared while my mother was ill, given away by a family member who did not want to take care of them and considered them junk. How that understanding changed when my mother died. (But the artifacts were still gone.)
Why did this heirloom not get given away? What kept it in the house when entire rooms of things were carted off?

Okay. Cultural associations will work. How much can I write on that? I know about Queen Victoria and her love for Prince Albert… I know that she was related to every member of royalty in Europe during the 20th C.  That’s off topic. Don’t want to stray from the topic again.

There is a lot of hair involved in Victorian mourning practices. Without doing research what do I know about hair in culture?

Length of hair acceptable has changed over time for both men and women. Women’s hair has gotten short in the last century (since the 1920s and the bob). Men’s hair changes; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (14th C), GK had long hair, then again in the 1960s. Could maybe add a bit more, like on the Gibson Girl look with the full, long hair.

Cutting hair… Children’s first locks were kept. Why? Idk. But children often died. 50% of children born died before age 5 during Victorian era. Perhaps this was to make sure there was something to remember them? Or because mothers have a hard time letting their children grow up during any age?

Those first locks (of boys’ hair) cuts the curl out. My uncle’s hair was very long when he was born. He had curls. Not manly… Wonder if Grama kept his hair for a while. Getting off topic again. Back to hair and culture. Many children lose the wave in their hair as they age. (Book- Justine Davis?- with kidnapped little girl, for example.) So maybe the hair was kept as a remembrance of the curls, too.

Many people trimmed the dead’s hair and kept the locks. See the Long 18th Century pins on my Pinterest page for examples. (Or ebay.) Hair was important for some reason, even if I don’t know exactly what it was.

Metaphor produced… The metaphor for the shadowbox hair is a bouquet. A bouquet of flowers. Flowers were for love. Flowers (in a wreath) were also used on the door to show that someone in the home had died (with black streamers). Also flowers in wreaths are used on graves, even today. So perhaps it’s not a bouquet but a wreath. A mourning wreath. A wreath that connects (perhaps) the living and the dead. Did they cut GGGgrama Shroeder’s hair and braid her locks in with everyone else’s? Flowers were also used during long funerals to mask the stench. Ugh! Pretty flower smells and rotting flesh.

I could also write about the photograph of GGGGrama Shroeder. Photography has existed at least since the Civil War. There are many Civil War photographs in books and in museums. This was before film, as I grew up with it, and definitely before digital! I’ve seen photographs created from glass plates. I’ve seen the glass plates in museums. … Early 1800s photography invented. So has to be after that. Photo kind of looks like an artist’s rendition. Is it an artistic drawing and not a photo? Need to check that possibility out when I get back to the office.

Mourning… The whole “big” concept. Victorian. Prince Albert died during American Civil War… So the bouquet and the shadowbox have to be after 1861. My chapter on holidays during the Civil War is being published soon! Definitely off topic. 

So the shadowbox is from sometime between 1861 and 1890. Would in-laws have been included? If so, then maybe it would be 1886. That’s when GGGrampa Easten married GGGrama Katherine. How quickly would the Victoriana affectations have spread to the US? We were 100 years past Revolutionary War, so no one who was in that would remember. We do love royalty here, even in my lifetime. So probably fairly quickly. Prince Albert’s death would have been a big deal, even in US–probably. 

Do know stuff about widows, but I also know that’s irrelevant. GGGGrampa Shroeder was already dead when GGGGrama died. (She was 103! I do know that.) Hmm. Could I check on census data in Pennsylvania? I know in 1880 Grama Katherine was at home and both her parents were alive. She was married in her 20s. So maybe the picture and mourning was actually for GGGGGrama Shroeder (or whatever Grama Katherine’s maternal grandmother’s last name was). Do I know that? I have the census records in the bedroom closet. Yeah, can’t check that right now though. It is probably relevant, but not something I can spend paragraphs on in my essay.

Cultural associations… hair. Wreaths/flowers. Mourning. Mourning was most important for spouse, but parents was second. The family could have been in full mourning for a whole year! Then the other stages of mourning, which included jewelry. Hah! Must have been GGGGGrama, because GGGrampa Easten wouldn’t have bought GGGrama Katherine 3 mourning pieces and we have 3 mourning pieces that were GGrama Rill’s. She had to have gotten them from her (extended) family. It wasn’t in style by the time GGrampa Ben died. … So if GGGrama Katherine’s mother went into mourning for her mother, that would be normal. (Second year you could wear jewelry.) Hmm. Wonder if Americans were as strict. I mean, why would you have people’s hair a year after they died? Ah! Perhaps that is why Americans weren’t as strict. They wanted to wear the jewelry for the mourning with the hair at the time. Examples:

man's ring made with human hair for mourning

 

mourning watch fob made of hair

 

mourning pin, with human hair inside

But we don’t have that kind of mourning piece. Which means that MY family kept the “full” mourning. That would explain the shadowbox. Couldn’t wear the hair anywhere for a year, so what do you do with it? Create something and hang it on the wall or set it on a shelf. Makes sense.

Wow! I learned something (probably) from trying to figure this out.

Do I have enough for an essay now?

I would discuss the cultural associations regarding mourning during the Victorian era, particularly cutting locks, hair as jewelry, and mourning jewelry and how that shows that my family was “traditional.” This would mean that the date narrows even more. It would be 1863 before the “stages” of mourning that Victoria created existed. So the window for death becomes 1863-1886. … Which actually means it was probably GGGGGGrama. (Freaky!) Because GGGrama Katherine was in her 20s in 1880s. So GGGGrama Shroeder would have been in her 40s. Her mother would have probably been in her 60s, though possibly 70s or even 80s. BUT this great-grand died when she was 103. So it would have been 5x great-grandmother. That might actually explain the bouquet better, too. More people wanting hair, but you can’t scalp the dead in a civilized way. So instead they shear locks off everyone for the bouquet. I wonder how many colors I could differentiate in the bouquet. That might be something to look at.

I was going to say if it was 5x great-grandmother, then she would have been alive during Revolutionary War, but I believe (though no guarantees) that whole side of the family was from Germany until GGGrampa Easten and at least one branch came over recently enough for GGGrama Katherine to know the story well enough to tell Grama Helen. Of course, if GGGGGGrama lived till GGGrama Katherine was an adult, then she had plenty of time to tell her stories. … Off topic again, but that would mean that GGGGGGrama came over. Not during the Prussian wars of the 19th C like I was assuming. Would have to have been during a war in the 18th C. Of course, Germans fought just as much as the Brits and us Americans (since we are all from the same people groups that makes sense). So there probably was/were war(s) during that century–besides the Revolutionary War that the Hessians fought in. –Hessians were mercenaries though. I wonder if they ever fought in Germany. Not relevant. Stay on topic.

So I have the cultural associations of: Queen Victoria, mourning rituals, hair as memoriam. I have the age of the piece: 1863-1886. I have the family members it could NOT have been. (Is that off topic?)

Remember that this is a German family. Prince Albert was German. That might have made the family even more likely to keep the strict mourning of the first year. I mean, you can’t let the English queen show you up when YOU are German. I could probably do a paragraph on the implications of a British queen’s mourning practices for a German prince coming to the US and how it would possibly impact a German-immigrant family.

Metaphors. What metaphors? Flowers, bouquets, mourning wreaths. Also the practice of pressed flowers. (Much older!) GGrama Rill continued that practice. Flowers for remembrance. Flowers had meaning. People actually knew and kept up with the meanings of flowers in this era. So NO ONE in this time would have ever doubted what was in the shadowbox. That makes it a blatant mourning without breaking the taboos on jewelry for the first year.

Also there is the metaphorical metaphor. (Is that a thing?) The hair is all tied up together. The family is all tied up. The family’s hairs are all tied up together. The family members are all tied up together.

So what would be my thesis now? The macramé bouquet of hair created out of a family’s mourning, sometime between 1863 and 1886, shows the American fascination with British royalty is a tradition, that my family were conservative in their mourning practices… Queen Victoria’s mourning for her lost Prince Albert began a ….

Seems like maybe the time period comes later.

Introduction (Goths, funeral museum, mother)

Description

How the piece mirrors/ shows American Victorian mourning practices and indicates that: 1. Americans have a royalty fetish, 2. my family were conservative, 3. hair was a big deal, Note: Maybe if they used the other memorials, people threw them away? But why would you be MORE likely to throw out a quilt. Maybe you weren’t. But maybe a quilt would be worn out before it got to my generation. E wore out GGrama Willine’s quilt and he’s just about the only one who used it. and 4. the family had sufficient money to have a painting/photograph (need to see which) done of the deceased-before or after death? Before. Pictures taken after death were often in coffins, certainly in their death robes, and not posed sitting up. (Although we do that now with death pictures of babies.) Hmm. I don’t know how much photos cost though. 5. Family also had enough money for jewelry. Only three pieces though and I have all of it. So not a lot of money. But more than one seed pearl. Of course, mourning jewelry was worn to show affluence. So maybe the family went all out to show off. But only had three pieces. One per person? Maybe my GGGGGrama was one of three girls–with only kids? How likely is that? 50% death rate at birth and 50% death rate by age 5, maybe that’s not that unlikely.

What I do with this artifact.
Why I enjoy it.
Why I think it is cool.
Maybe who of my children I hope/expect to pass it on to and why.
Is this relevant? I don’t know. 

This entry was posted in Writing: Dr. Davis. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *