The mythos surrounding the state of Texas has been large for about as long as Texas history, but when the Dallas-based photographer Nancy Newberry began working on her series Mum in 2007, she realized practically no one outside the state had heard of the custom of high school students exchanging chrysanthemum corsages (“mums”) during homecoming.
The custom, which dates back about 70 years, involves the exchange of a corsage between boyfriend and girlfriend, friends, or mothers and their children. Both boys and girls can be the recipient of corsages, and those who are lucky can receive them from more than one person. As such, mums can be a powerful status symbol for those who receive the largest and the most of the eye-catching corsages.
Newberry, who describes the focus of her work as an examination of ritual in human society, remembers exchanging mums when she was a teenager growing up in Texas, though she says they used to be a lot smaller and were made from real flowers. Over time, the size and cost of the mums grew, with larger corsages costing upwards of $100, with all the components now being artificial. They have become a permanent keepsake rather than a fleeting symbol of friendship and love.
All photographs © Nancy Newberry.