Cycles of Sentiments

As I read Helen Sheumaker’s “Love Entwined” in concert with Karin Dahhnel’s “Object Biographies” and Kenneth L. Ames’ “Meaning in Artifacts,” I first noticed how nicely these readings spoke to each other.  While reading “Love Entwined,” I thought about the lack of hairwork today in tandem with hairwork’s modern cousin, jewelry/art made with cremated remains.  My first connection between texts was that hairwork had “died” in some way, exemplifying the very life cycle study and life cycle assessment discussed by Dahhnel.

I saw parallels in my experience in Dahhnel’s commentary on exceptional and humble objects.  As Dahhnel explains, “The humble object, by contrast, will be more likely to get used and used up, or returned as scrap to produce new objects,” and for me, this is true.  I am not planning to destroy items with monetary or sentimental value for reuse (i.e. wedding presents), but I reuse “unimportant” clothing for projects or for simple household cleaning use.  I reacted similarly to Ames’ reference to Damos on page 126, “But as Damos noted in A Little Commonwealth, it is not easy to judge the meaning of object’s in people’s lives or how they felt about a certain artifact.  Not only did those feelings go unrecorded but they often existed below the level of consciousness.”  When I think about my everyday objects, I am not thinking about their meanings and what they say about me in the context of culture.  Do I have some objects which define my ‘self’ more than others?  Yes, but most of my materials, such as for cooking, do not say much about me in a conscious everyday manner, other than my love for chartreuse green (I have one such pie plate).  This is where Dahhnel helps with object biography, using life cycle study and biography to “assist the historian in dealing with the complexities and, above all, with the absences in a constructive matter.”  When we can’t know what the user of an item was thinking and feeling, object biography helps to create the constructive matter historians need to make an argument and add to conversation.

In the case of Sheumaker’s biography on hairwork, there are moments of what Dahhnel would call “discursive space” in the narrative, but I wonder if these conclusions are made because of hairwork’s ability to be discussed as art.  Is there more room for discussion of inference in a biography of an “art history” or expressive object (like a novel) than something more specifically functional, like a pot?

When I read about the morphing use of sentimentality in hairwork in the 1850s and 1860s, including the use of hairwork for practical personal gifts (such as the “fob watch” Sheumaker discusses on page 136-139), I started to think about these implications on fashion in a larger sense.  While fashion in terms of the dolmanette is less personal than hairwork (though hairwork is fashion), there is also a piece of self illustrated by clothing selection.  When considering the dolmanette, which was a highly-priced piece worn to a public social occasion, it seems rational to expect that this piece expressed its owner, Miss Rosalie Hassler.  Is clothing the next step after hairwork in materials of sentimentality?  In Chapter 2, Sheumaker discusses hairwork with the goal of creating a representation of the inner self.  Is it possible that the dolmanette achieves a purpose of representing Miss Hassler’s true self?  Does the ability of the dolmanette to emanate Hassler’s self partly lie in discovering if this piece was made personally or in mass production?

In other words, just as Sheumaker states on page 38 that “…hairwork appealed to customers because it was unique, fashionable, and sentimental,” I feel motivated to use the dolmanette to tell me more about Miss Hassler uniqueness, fashion sense, and sentimentality in context.  Just as Ames stated on page 127 that understanding hall furniture necessitated the need “to know something about the hall, for this space and its relationship to other spaces in the home had an influence on the objects placed within it,” I need to know about Miss Hassler and her role at an opera debut and her relationship to other people in that space because these things had influence upon her and the dolmanette.

 

References

Ames, Kenneth. “Meaning in Artifacts: Hall Furnishings in Victorian America,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 9 (1978): 19-46.

Dannehl, Karin. “Object Biographies: From Production to Consumption,” in Karen Harvey, ed., History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources (London and New York: Routledge, 2009).

Sheumaker, Helen. “Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America.”(Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007).

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