Made in 1879 by a teenage girl on a farm in rural Pierz, Minnesota, this dyed wool floral wreath represents the importance of decorative arts and handcrafts across the Midwest during the late nineteenth century. Women’s magazines prevalent at the time were filled with home decorating ideas that encouraged women to showcase their talents. One popular project was decorative wreaths. While most were made of human hair, Mary Virnig’s wreath was created using wool, possibly from sheep that may have been raised on her father’s farm. The wreath is made of individual stems of wool flowers that are twisted together with wire at the base to form a circle. Each of the petals on the flowers consist of a tuft of wool that is mounted on a thin wire. The wires for the petals are bound together to form a flower and are wrapped with wool yarn.
Mary Virnig Langer was born on March 23, 1864, in Cross Plaines, Wisconsin, to Christ and Anna (Vosen) Virnig. In 1866, the family moved to Rich Prairie (now Pierz), Minnesota, heeding a call by Father Francis Xavier Pierz to settle the German Catholic colony. Mary’s father homesteaded 160 acres in what is now part of the City of Pierz. A successful farmer, he was able to purchase three additional 160 acre tracts of land in Buh township, Morrison County, at various times throughout his farming career. According to a WPA biography given by Mary in 1937 (#706 Biography of Mrs. Mary Virnig Langer), Father Pierz kept a flock of sheep near the log church that was close to her home. The wool for the wreath may also have come from the sheep raised by Father Pierz. Mary was well-educated, attending the local parochial school until she was twelve, after which she attended school in St. Cloud. On October 26, 1886, Mary married Henry Langer, the son of her father’s good friend, Adam Langer. Adam owned a farm about four miles from St. Cloud and had helped the Virnig family move to Rich Prairie. Mary and Henry had ten children, four of whom died young.