Memory Lamp

Antique folk art “memory” oil lamp, c. 1930s. Memory objects—most commonly taking the form of jugs—were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to commemorate past experiences by bringing together accumulations of little tchotchkes associated with certain memories.

The oil lamp here was likely overcome by such small significant objects in the 1930s, when its owner applied an unusual number and variety of items—some layered on top of one another—to its glass surface. Each object perhaps had some meaning to the memory lamp’s creator, and combined they take on poetic, even monumental proportions despite their scale and humble origins. Human figures, coins, knives, toy animals, chains, shells, jewelry, pottery shards, buttons—each viewing brings new objects to light, and further complicates the relationships and interactions between the miscellaneous bric-a-brac. Applied in plaster to the lamp, the composition was painted with gold-brown radiator paint, recalling bronze. The effect further likens the assemblage to the swirling, chaotic mass of figures in Rodin’s “The Gates of Hell.”

Imagine the flame of the oil lamp hovering above the assemblage, its flickering light reflecting on the dull gold paint, causing the forgotten shards to roil and rise from the base below: this memory lamp is among the most evocative and powerful examples of memory assemblage sculpture.



10 inches tall

6 inches wide



Very good condition, with some paint loss and a few chipped or broken inset objects.



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