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This rare example of a memory vessel is a massive primitive wooden bowl covered with over 100 fascinating mementos. The bowl was hand hewn from a solid log; it's darkened with age and still bears the rough tool marks on the inside. The exterior of the bowl has hand hammered tin and copper objects, both large and small, attached with tiny nails. Many of the items are milagros, Mexican religious amulets used to beseech favors and give thanks. Unlike memory jugs or jars, which are covered with putty or plaster and then completely encrusted with trinkets, the adornments on this vessel were carefully spaced to achieve an artful balance.
Anchored by the spectacular tin heart with a copper center, a sampling of the varied range of symbols includes: A cowboy hat, coiled snake, and a couple of scorpions; lots of crosses, large and tiny; several crowns and the Vitruvian Man; parts of the body such as an arm and a leg; an ankh and a peace symbol. Memory vessels like this began in the South as memorials for loved ones. Given the presence of the milagros, we believe this bowl was made in the southwest in the 1800's and then decorated as a memorial at a later date. Most of the memory jugs we've seen (and sold) were decorated with jewelry, coins, mirrors and other personal effects. The strong religious theme of the mementos on this bowl suggest an origin in a southwest town bordering Mexico, probably in Texas.
The bowl itself is 14 inches wide across the top and 10 inches across the bottom. It has a thick rim over 1 inch wide and tapers inside to a 4 1/2 inch diameter bottom. It stands 8 inches tall and weighs an amazing 11 1/2 pounds. The bowl has several narrow age cracks, which do not affect its sturdiness. The trinkets are all in very good condition, with only eight empty nails. Four round white foam pads were attached to the bottom at some point to protect surfaces; they could be easily removed if you wish.
Folk art pieces like this memory bowl are rare and obviously unique. It's a 3-D scrapbook, the symbolism endlessly fascinating, the vessel itself a remembrance of a time, a place and a life.