Emma Adele Myrick Hair Wreath

Riley Kinum ’22 (Winter 2021)

The Floral Hair Wreath made by Emma Adele Myrick is an embodiment of 19th-century fancywork. Additionally, it is a complete personification of the lifestyle and value system observed by those of the time period. 

According to a typewritten label in the Sheldon Museum, the wreath was created by Emma Adele Myrick Buck and composed of hair from the members of the Myrick and Russell families of Vermont. As one of six children and with a plethora of cousins on both her mother’s side of the family, the Russells, as well as her father’s, the Myricks, Emma had a vast supply of hair to work with (Familysearch genealogy). The wreath likely contains the hair of her sisters, her mother, and her cousins Annette and Lillian Russell, who were around the same age as her and lived close by. The varying shades of brown hair show genetic similarity but also imply that many people’s hair is included. In short, this wreath is a family tree of sorts. It is deeply sentimental as it is a physical expression of intangible relationships. There is a level of sincerity in that this wreath took up a great deal of Emma’s time and required meticulous care. Coupled with the literal DNA of loved ones, it is a metaphor for the dedication and beauty of human connection.

Emma Adele Myrick Buck (1850-1928), Floral hair wreath, ca. 1865-1870. Human hair, wire, beads, and ribbon in gilt and glass frame, 21 x 19 x 3 in. Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT. Gift of Media Buck, 1937.003.

Emma Adele Myrick was born in Bridgeport, Vermont, in 1850 to Barnabas Josiah Myrick and Millicent Russell Myrick. Emma’s parents likely owned a farm and by the looks of a portrait of Barnabas and Millicent, the family of eight was by no means destitute. Members of the Grange and Vermonters since the American Revolution, the Myricks were a well-known family in Addison County (Middlebury Register, 1921). According to historians at the Henry Sheldon Museum, the portrait below shows a “rural couple anxious to present themselves as respectable, literate, middle class people” (HSM Collection file). Interestingly enough, the style of this painting is more associated with the works of half a century earlier. This detail may imply that the family did not have the funds to pay an artist educated in a more modern style and painterly technique. Instead, the painting is more in the style of folk art. Artist Jesse Grandey Converse, a painter based in nearby Panton, Vermont, was also distantly related to the Myrick family (Truman Grandey, Jesse Converse’s uncle, had married Mary Rich Myrick in 1824), so this family connection might have prompted the creation of the double portrait.

Jesse Grandey Converse (1846-1926), Portrait of Mr & Mrs Myrick (Barnabas J. Myrick and Millie Russell Myrick), ca 1870. Oil on wood panel, 79.5cm x 129.7cm (31 5/16 x 51 1/16 in.). Gift of Charles H. Grandey to the Henry Sheldon Museum, 1922.02.01.

Hairwork was a fixture of 19th-century middle class society. “Middle class” was an ideology, and hairwork was a prominent product of such thought. Such art pieces represented the fusion of romanticism and consumerism, culminating with the birth of a new confidence and individualism. Hairwork was meaningful and personalized, challenging the notions of consumption and commodification present during this time (Bercaw, 240). No two pieces of work could be exactly the same. It was material and immaterial at the same time because it represented something bigger: feelings of love, mourning, and appreciation. The practice of making jewelry, brooches, wreaths, and other physical output from hair was common among the middle class because, though it was an inexpensive medium, it required time and effort. Time was something that the women who comprised the new middle class had. They also had the desire to do so, as they wanted to separate themselves from both the working class as well as the splendor of the materialistic elite. As homemakers, they also had the desire to personalize their homes, and there was no better way to do it than to display their pieces of hairwork on the walls of their parlors. 

Emma Adele Myrick Buck is a model of the middle class cult of domesticity. Although she was not poor as a child, she experienced a lifestyle new to her after she married Rawson Clark Buck in 1868, at age 18, and moved to Crown Point, New York. Rawson came from a well-off family, the grandson of a prominent lawyer and the son of an honored colonel (The Elizabethtown Post, 1921). Rawson became a wealthy merchant and a respected member of the county committee and the Democratic party of New York (Crane, 192). Buck Mansion, in Crown Point, New York, still stands today. An image of his grave and estate, both pictured below, are evidence of his money and power during his life.

Image of Rawson C. Buck’s Grave Memorial, courtesy of findagrave.com
Buck Mansion, Crown Point, Courtesy of Steve Laundree via https://www.co.essex.ny.us/

As the wife of a wealthy man, Emma A. Buck is mentioned in many newspapers of the time, specifically the Ticonderoga Sentinel in regards to social outings. Having attended Ripley Female College in Poultney, Vermont, Emma was a literate and well-educated woman (Ripley Female College, “U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935”). According to the censuses taken throughout her life, she was a homemaker. She likely created this hair wreath during her early twenties, as a young mother of a girl named Media Buck. The prolific use of flowers in her wreath illuminates her dexterity and skill. She likely learned such knowledge through magazines and books afforded to people of her status during the time. Wealthier women had the funds and the time to dedicate to such tasks. Additionally, the use of flowers illustrates her observation and reinterpretation of nature. Such keen awareness speaks to her level of education, as well as her appreciation of the physical world.

In addition to the beauty of the flowers, the hair wreath seems to include a wire covered in embroidery thread to give the impression of a branch. Such a use of materials likely implies that Emma was familiar with sewing, yet another fixture of 19th century middle class life. There is also a small ivory colored ribbon present in the center of the wreath. This further illustrates the upper middle class echelon that the Bucks inhabited. Ribbon became a common accessory on the dresses and hats of wealthier women during this time. Finally, the sheer quantity, and quality, of the beading present illustrates the time and dedication that went into the procurement of such a beautiful piece of fancywork. 

Aside from the possible water stains in the upper left-center, the artwork is well preserved. Emma and Rawson’s daughter, Media Buck, donated the work to the Henry Sheldon Museum in 1937, when she was 67 years old (Collection files). Emma and Media were likely very close. Rawson died of typhoid-pneumonia in 1885, when he was only 43 years old, and he left everything to Emma (Ancestry, “New York, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1659-1999”). According to various censuses, Emma and Media lived together until Emma died in 1928. Media never married and was a school teacher in the Long Island area (Ancestry, “Media Buck in the 1910 United States Federal Census”). Media’s occupation implies that she appreciated her mother’s work and saw its importance in understanding her family’s history, and its applicability to understanding the way of life of the 19th century.  According to one of her descendants, Sr. Gertrude Myrick of Burlington, Vermont, Media Buck was an extremely generous individual. These reasons may explain why Media donated the wreath to the Henry Sheldon Museum. This wreath is so much more than just an artifact of a time long-ago passed; it is a family tree and symbolizes the bonds and fundamental truths of human nature. There is comfort in human nature’s consistencies, specifically friendship and family as a source of comfort.

We are grateful to Media Buck for donating this treasured artifact of family history, and to Mary Paquette and Sr. Gertrude Myrick, Sister of Mercy in Burlington, for sharing their family stories and photographs.

Photographer unknown. Members of the Myrick-Buck family in Crown Point, ca. 1945-6. From left to right: Beatrice Nantel Myrick (1900-1984), her daughter Emma Myrick (now Sr. Gertrude Myrick), and their cousin Media Buck, who had donated Emma Adele Myrick’s hairwork wreath to the Sheldon Museum just a few years prior. Photographs courtesy of Sr. Gertrude Myrick and Mary Myrick Paquette.
Detail, hairwork and charm in form of a book
Detail, Hairwork chain with charm in the form of a book, n.d. Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, VT. Gift of Mrs. Frances A. Waite, 1968, 68.20.b.

Cite this essay: Riley Kinum, “Emma Adele Myrick Hair Wreath” in Perspectives on Hairwork: Historic Vermont, ed. Ellery Foutch (Winter 2021): https://elleryfoutch.middcreate.net/hairwork/emma-adele-myrick-hair-wreath/ [date accessed]

Works Cited

Ancestry. “New York, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1659-1999 for Rawson C Buck.” Ancestry. Accessed February 7, 2021. 

Bercaw, Nancy. “Solid Objects/Mutable Meanings: Fancywork and the Construction of Bourgeois Culture, 1840- 1880.” Winterthur Portfolio 26, no. 4 (1991): 231–47. 

“Card of Thanks.” Middlebury Register (Middlebury, Vt.) 18 March 1921, 7. Link from Chronicling America.

Collection files, Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, VT.

Crane, Ellery B. The Rawson Family: A Revised Memoir of Edward Rawson. Worcester: The Rawson Family, 1875. link

“Democratic Co. Convention,” The Elizabethtown Post (Elizabethtown, N.Y.), 17 Sept. 1885: 2. Link from NYS Historic Newspapers.

“Emma A Buck in the 1870 United States Federal Census.” Ancestry. Accessed February 7, 2021. 

“Emma Adele Myrick Buck (1850-1928) – Find A Grave” Find a Grave. Accessed February 7, 2021. Link

“Media Buck in the 1910 United States Federal Census.” Ancestry. Accessed February 7, 2021. 

Myrick, Emma, A. “Hair Floral Piece.” Hairwork in Frame, Middlebury: Henry Sheldon Museum and related documentation.

“Old-Fashion Hats and Bonnets On View at Sheldon Museum [and Recent Gifts].” Middlebury Register 17 June 1938, 8.

Peronal communications with Mary (Myrick) Paquette, January-February 2021.

Ripley Female College. “U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 for Emma A Myrick.” Ancestry link. Accessed February 7, 2021.

“United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch (link: 13 June 2019), New York > Essex > Crown Point > image 57 of 64; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

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