My name is Sam Self and for years I’ve been playing around and customising jewellery made by others. After doing tonnes of jewellery workshops with my favourite brands, a short college course and online research, I decided it was about time I gave jewellery making a go myself and send my creations out into the world.
So why skulls? For many years I’ve been into rock music and that tends to come with a lot of clothing covered in skulls. When I did my Masters I happened to be wearing quite lots of skull covered clothing and jewellery (it was all over the shops then) and my friends just associate this imagery with me. I’ve lost 2 close relatives and as a result I am fascinated with Day of the Dead sugar skulls and Victorian memento mori as a way of remembering them. Plus skulls are cool right!?
About Memento Mori
“memento mori” = an object kept as a reminder of the inevitability of death, such as a skull. The origin of the phrase is Latin meaning ‘remember (that you have to die)’.
Memento mori as a phrase and object emerged in late 16th/early 17th centuries as an instruction to value the eternal life of your spirit over the temporary life of your body. The skull motif was used on numerous graves in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries like this one I photographed while in holiday in Boston, MA.
Image of gravestone from Granary Burial Ground, Boston MA © Samantha Self
Art historians can use memento mori as a technical term for artworks that contain reminders of mortality, including the classic skull but also hourglasses and candles (which burn out) and flowers (which decay) hence my logo design is influenced in this way. Although the memento mori picture became popular in the 17th century, modern artists and crafters like me continue to explore this genre.
The Victorians were also fascinated with death and often wore symbols of memento mori, such as the skull, within mourning jewellery.
(see my Pinterest album for more images)
About Sugar Skulls
Day of the Dead, or Dia De Los Muertos, is a fascinating holiday celebrated in central and southern Mexico on November 1 & 2 to honour deceased loved ones in a similar way to Halloween in this country.
One of the most iconic and colourful items seen during the festivities is the sugar skull or calavera. These skulls, which can come in different sizes, are traditionally made of sugar and are decorated with icing to be fun and colourful. Some even have feathers, glitter, hats, or other objects attached to make them more personal.
Sugar skulls are sometimes eaten, but their main function is to adorn the altars and tombs with a sugary delight for the visiting spirits. I have several sugar skulls as you might expect and I won’t be eating mine!
But why SUGAR skulls? In Mexico, a country abundant in sugar production and perhaps too poor to buy fancy imported European church decorations, people learned quickly how to make sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay moulded sugar figures of angels, sheep and sugar skulls go back to the 18th century. Sugar skulls represented a departed soul and often had names written on their foreheads and placed on the home “ofrenda” or gravestone to honour the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colourful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments.
You might think that the sugar skulls can look a bit scary but they are meant to be happy, colourful and are meant to capture the joy and happy memories associated with lost loved ones which is why I am particularly fond of them. People also have their faces painted to look like a sugar skull to celebrate the holiday just like I did in 2017!
Me as a sugar skull © Samantha Self