There are a variety of origin stories for memory jugs. Google-fu gets you information, but nothing definitive. One explanation is that memory jugs originated as African mourning vessels, a tactile and tangible link from this world to the next, placed at gravesides and adorned with objects signifying the person who had passed. The African Bakongo culture believed that the spirit world was upside down, and that those on earth were connected to it by water. That's where the jugs come in, vessels that hold water, covered with broken objects allowing spirits to travel. I love this notion - that everyday objects, when elevated to art, become conduits, a communication of love, memory, assistance and reverence between worlds - collected, curated, descansos.
Another version, or chapter to the story, is that memory jugs were a Victorian-era crafty fad. Victorians tended to love the intricate, the busy, the strange. They were the ones making art out of hair, for god's sake.
The minute I saw one of these memory vessels in an antique shop, I was intrigued. If you're a collector, the compiled, accumulated, aesthetic of these strikes you immediately. It's like a favorite junk drawer or forgotten cigar box suddenly gets to show up on a shelf, all the items on display, rather than tucked away and forgotten.
So, I was hooked. I've made three memory jugs so far. They're addictive. They all include personal memories, like costume jewelry that belonged to my Gramma Monk, an old name tag from a former school where I taught, baubles and bangles crafted and gifted to me by my son. They also include a miscellaneous hodge-podge of collected items from around my life. Sticks, stones, bits of broken glass, rubber bands, bottle caps.
Today, I got to sit with my mom and we worked on memory jugs together. She was visiting and brought with her items that she had tucked away. Some I hadn't seen in years, like jewelry pieces that my dad had silversmithed, or her treasured thimble collection that had been displayed on the wall during my childhood. She had pins representing her workplaces, gifts from grandchildren and friends, and earring memories of her mother. I loved hearing the history of each treasure. It was a connection.
Memory jugs are connection. Stories. Visual odes. Poems to the past. Collections of fiction, fact, or the messy in-between. They do carry you between worlds. They transport you. Isn't that what art is for?