How Jayne Wallace helps unlock the past

Jayne Wallace 'Jewellery Box, My Dresses Brooch', 2010, photo by Bill Shaylor

Jayne Wallace 'Jewellery Box, My Dresses Brooch', 2010, photo by Bill Shaylor

One of the works for the Signs of Change exhibition as a jewellery box by Jayne Wallace designed as a memory prompt for those in the early stages of dementia. As a work of functional jewellery, it demonstrates how the intimacy of ornament can provide a powerful stimulus for recovering memory.

She spend a long time with her participants exploring their memories and how they might be triggered. This includes use of a camera, soft clay, prize rosettes, preserve jars, seed packets, dress patterns, pearls of wisdom and a ‘self-tree’. From these exercises, Jayne was able to fashion objects that could evoke strong past memories.

How did you become involved in the memory project?

The relationship between memory and jewellery has always been fascinating to me. We use jewellery objects as vessels so often – to hold memories, as objects to pour our feelings into about an associated ‘other’ be that a person, place, experience… or as comforters – something that connects us to other people or is comforting because it has physically accompanied us through our experiences. The nature of jewellery as such means it has rich potential when we think about ways to help someone hold on to or share aspects of their experiences – this relates to all of us – and naturally suggests people who are experiencing difficulties in doing this. To this end we wanted to work with people who were living with dementia and their close friends/family to make pieces of jewellery that could potentially help them share aspects of past and current experience and hopefully hold on to these over time.

Have you found out how the memory box has been working with Gillian and her family?

They have used the box to record music to each of the dress fabrics – music from the holiday when the dress was worn etc and are using the fabrics and songs as stimuli for further conversation and reminiscing to also record to the box. You’ll see from the film that the dress fabrics also prompted memories about the letters they used to write to one another when they were courting and they have been re reading these and storing those in the box too.

See a film with the participants in this project, Gillian and John.

Some other memory pieces by Jayne Wallace include:

Jayne Wallace 'A locket that can forget' (image degrades a little each time it is opened)

Jayne Wallace is Research associate on the Newcastle University Digital Research Hub, centring on social inclusion in the digital economy. For more information, visit her website

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