Memory Jugs are complex pieces of found art compiled and applied to a jug or jar to maintain the memory of times gone by. These items can be valued in the $1000s or as low as $10, but what makes them unique, and why would someone buy such an ugly hodgepodge of items that have lost their individual value?
First, let’s start with the assumed history of these items. There are two different historical beliefs of the memory jugs, the first is that they originated in Africa with the Bakongo culture who believed that the vessels would help the spirit travel through the spirit world. The second belief is that this is nothing more than a Victorian Era form of a scrapbook but either way they are quite interesting to look at and fun to try to discern what all the pieces are that have been applied to the jug.
Although the process to make these jugs is rather simple, it can and will become time consuming and possibly very costly.
Now to explore the creation of these jugs…
- Locate a jug or base to the project (Glass, stoneware jug, tile, this could be anything)
- Find a suitable substrate (I recommend Thin Set Mortar)
- Find a large array of small trinkets that invoke memories
- Find a 1″ putty knife
- Purchase a pint of clear polyurethane and a 2″ paint brush
Next you will have to prep the base…
- Clean and use a mild soap (Dawn) on the base item
- Lightly sand (180 grit) all finished or shiny areas of the base to increase adhesion
- Clean a second time using only water to remove the grit from sanding
Finally you will start the application process…
- Sort the trinkets by size
- Apply the mortar to the jug or jar using the putty knife
- Once the jug is covered use the Larger trinkets and slightly press them into the mortar
- Begin now by covering the mortar with the various small trinkets
- Continue to rotate the jug, applying small pieces until virtually no mortar is apparent
- Allow to dry for 48-72 hours (disregard the containers instructions it is not set in 12 hours)
- Coat jar or jug 3-4 times with a polyurethane and allow this to dry in between coats
When finished you have created your own memory jug. Now a little more advice: If you plan on selling this item, you need to consider the costs associated to the trinkets, the base and the mortar as this number will be higher than you originally anticipated. For instance, if you bought a UHG stoneware 3 gallon jug for $20 and substrate adhesive for $8 and polyurethane for $9, you are already into this project for $37, not including labor. Your trinkets can be another significant cost association to this project. Being an avid auction and flea market shopper, you can pick up box lots of trinkets to make these jugs, but be aware each and every item you use has an associated cost.
Memory jugs make wonderful holiday decorations, mementos to loved ones and even memorial pieces, but remember as you embark on this project that with a little thought and cohesion of the items used you might just be creating the next Mona Lisa…