Genetic Inheritance

Genetic Inheritance
Antique needle case, hand embroidery with human hair

Part of Emotional Repair exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall in 2018 with further hair donations added in 2019 and exhibited in Textile Traces. 

Human hair, once off the head, seems to disgust many people nowadays, whereas in the past it was quite common to collect locks of hair from friends and family. This piece was inspired by the locket of hair in the collection here and has developed from a previous artist residency exploring genetics and DNA, as well as previous work in which I have used human hair.
Our hair holds the stories of our genetic inheritance, both in terms of scientific analysis and also who we know we ‘got our hair from’.
Donor’s stories are below the images with more to be added soon.


1. Nicki
2. Erica
3. Joonas
4. Penny
5. Sam
6. Imogen
7. Sophie
8. Kate
9. Gina
10. Michaela
11 & 12. Tessa and daughter Tilly
13. Hayley
14. Emma
15. Gayle
16. Kathryn
17, 18 & 19. Laura and daughters Jessie and Molly
20. Heather
21. Jane
22. Kate B
23. Sarah
24. Kay
25. Deb G
26. Deborah
26. Rachael
27. Sam
28. Lewis
29. Clare

1. Nicki
“I inherited my hair from my mother. My mother, her twin sister, my brother and my two cousins all have the same hair colour; when were young we were all extremely long. My mother and her twin sister were adopted as babies. We knew nothing about her biological family until a few years ago when one of them traced her. She was told that her father had been in the Swedish Air Force. That would seem to make sense with our hair colouring! However, when she went to London to be told more it turned out that her father was from Burghundy, France. I think it is more likely that we inherited our hair colour from her biological mother. Apparently I resemble her considerably.”

2. Erica
“Growing up with ‘red’ / ginger hair is character building. I get it from my dad which might explain why he was unhappy when aged 15 I decided to dye it purple. He has brown hair but a ginger beard. His dad was the same colour as me. I endured a lot of teasing at primary school because of my hair colour. I was constantly paired off with the only other ginger – a boy named Philip – and possibly because of this we disliked each other intensely. In year 6 we studied the Vikings and learned about Erik the Red. Suddenly I was ‘Erica the Red’ and the whole thing softened – I was cool – I was a Viking! I started to forgive my dad for giving me the ginger gene, and thought about the family history – my dad’s family is from the North East so it’s likely that there is some Viking in there, a fact confirmed when my dad was diagnosed with a disease that affects those of Nordic descent. I love my dad to bits and have almost forgiven him for the ginger hair! But I still feel like he might have had a bit more sympathy for my purple dye if he had grown up a full ginger himself!.

3. Joonas. “Everyone in my family has blond hair, obviously here [Finland] it is very common. Both my parents are along. When my dad was younger his hair was almost white it was so long. His family are from the very east of Finland. But my mum grew up in the North so the genetic origins are very different. My dad’s family are very close to the border with Russia. In fact his dad also told a story about himself or it could have been his dad [great-grandfather] that one day they had to take all their things and leave their house because the border changed and their house was now in Russia. So they had to take only what they could carry and walk over the new border.”

9. Gina
“Very like my grandmother’s hair (Dad’s mom). In fact is much so she used to pin curl and rag curl it when I was small as she knew it would work. Same colour too – almost. A little lighter (thanks mom).

10. Michaela
“Curly hair from my dad, although he never let it grow too long. Coloured as it started going grey when I was 20. My nanny went grey overnight when she was 16. My mum also went grey early but coloured it well into her 50s. My son’s got curly hair also.”

11 & 12. Tessa and Tilly. “My mum tells me I’ve inherited my hair from her. She had thick blonde hair as a child. In turn I’ve passed it on to my daughter. There also seems to be a strong wavy theme to our family hair. We think this comes from my grandad, but weirdly it seems to come out in different strengths in different family members. My niece has very tight blonde ringlets, Tilly is now more wavy than ringletty. Apparently when I was a baby people used to coo over the pram to mum “Ooo doesn’t she have lovely hair”. Tilly gets her own share of hair admiration too.”

16. Kathryn. ” When I was younger, my hair was a golden brown, like both my grandmas.  I started slowly going grey quite young, like Grandpa did (I only learnt that when chatting with my parents about this project)….. I rather like my silver and gold connections with past generations!”


17, 18 & 19. Laura and daughters Jessie and Molly ”

My hair is ridiculously important to me. It’s my self esteem bundled up in a mass of ginger curls. It’s made me feel special, ashamed, delighted, proud, different. It’s also my connection to family. My nana was a redhead, so too my brother and dad, and my daughter molly. I like to think of it as a link to a viking / celtic past…I’ll make it up where necessary. My daughter Jessie has thick curly hair, just like me. It’s beautiful, just like her. And Molly (although she always wants to dye it green) has hair of molten bronze, red shot through with gold. We love it.”