I Was Here is all about remembering we are mortal and using that knowledge to live more fulfilling lives. And, years ago, this was actually an art form known as ‘memento mori’ which is Latin for ‘Remember death’.
It’s said the phrase originated from the Roman tradition in which a servant would have to stand behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general waved victoriously to the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” This translates to “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!” We may shy away from thinking about death today, but all the way up until the beginning of the 20th century, death was seen as a motivator to live a good, meaningful, and virtuous life. And to help people remember death, artists created paintings, sculptures, and mosaics depicting skulls, skeletons, and other symbols of death. Churches would display memento mori art to encourage their congregation to behave, repent and prepare to meet their maker, and tombstones often had a skull or skeleton motif to remind visitors their days, too, were numbered.
I came across a lovely jewellery designer called Kimberly Cochrane on Instagram (@madonnaenchanted). Her work is a very unique and intriguing mix of Victorian mourning, Gothic and French religious jewellery inspired by ‘memento mori’ which she sells through her etsy shop, as well as creating commissioned pieces for people wishing to have special keepsakes of their loved ones. She lives in Boise, Idaho in the United States. I contacted Kimberly to find out more about her work and what inspires her...
How long have you been creating these jewellery pieces?
I’ve been creating one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces using antique and vintage elements for about eight years now. I’m a self taught artist – for as long as I can remember that’s what I always wanted to do. I get my artistic side from my mother who is a well known doll artist named Gail Lackey.
When did you become interested in creating memento mori?
I started creating mourning jewellery, also known as memento mori, six years ago when my dear grandmother passed away. I requested a lock of her hair so that I could create a keepsake piece to always remember her by. Since then, I’ve been asked to create many pieces for people wishing to memorialise their loved one who has passed away.
How does it feel to create these very special keepsakes?
I feel very blessed to be entrusted with such a special task. I work very closely with each client to make sure this creation brings them comfort and peace. It is very hard to lose a loved one, and we will all die one day, so memento mori are not only reminders of those we have loved and lost, but also a reminder of our own mortality. It is a true honour that I am able to do this for a living!
How do you go about creating these pieces?
Before I create a piece I like to know about their loved one. For example, if they loved birds or the colour blue, I would incorporate those elements into the piece so I can really capture their spirit! People entrust me with photographs of their loved one, locks of hair, even teeth and ashes, which can all be incorporated into the final piece. Alternatively, they may have a brooch or a particular keepsake of theirs. I have turned brooches into pendants, army and navy badges into cuff bracelets... the possibilities are endless!
Thank you Kimberly for talking to us!