Museum at home: Let’s make our own Spirit Jars!

Wollaton Hall may be closed at the moment, but we can still bring the museum to you, with information and activities linked to our collection and sites. 

Our museums are full of strange and fascinating objects. In our Wollaton Hall collection, we have something called spirit jars, and they’re a favourite of ours! We have a whole storeroom of them.

Can you work out what might be in them? What do you think they are used for?

Spirit jars are glass jars which contain specimens (examples of different animals) and a special preserving liquid (often alcohol). This liquid allows the creatures to be preserved for hundreds of years. Much of our collection is very old, as you can see from the dates on the labels below! Using a glass jar means that you can clearly see what is inside the jar, and the specimens can also be easily taken out if you want to study them closely.

Sometimes people would place fictional animals into a jar, pretending they had found a new kind of animal to sell to collectors who thought they were real. Our curators are experts though, so all of our collections are full of real things!

Make your own pretend spirit jar…

We would like you to have a go at creating your own creature (or specimen) to put in a spirit jar.

Step 1:

You will need to find yourself a jar with a lid – the bigger the jar, the bigger the creature you can fit inside it! Try and remove the jar’s label so that you can see into the glass.

Step 2:

Next you will need to make a creature. You could make a real creature or an imaginary creature – perhaps a strange sea creature or an alien! It might help to draw your idea first and work out how big (or small) it needs to be to fit into your jar.

Step 3:

Next you need to collect your materials to make your creature. There are lots of different ways you could do this, depending on what you have at home and how long you would like to spend making it. 

Examples:

Here are a few ways you could make your creature, and a few things you could use:

  • Draw onto cardboard, paint or colour it, and then cut it out
  • Create it out of Papier-mâché, or scrunched paper, masking tape and paint
  • Make a Lego creature
  • Glue together lots of scrap materials (this is a great chance to rummage through any broken plastic toys, bottle tops, curtain hooks, etc.), using PVA glue. This is great for sticking most things together, but you could otherwise use super glue or a glue gun with a grown-up’s help. To paint, you would need to use acrylic paint or spray-paint – these both work on plastic
  • Oven-baked clay
  • Craft materials such as pipe-cleaners, straws and pompoms

Once the creature is made and painted, you can put it into your jar!

Crumpled paper and masking tape

Craft materials and tape

Drawn onto cardboard

The start of my spirit jar creature collection.

If you want to add water to your jar to make it look like it has preserving liquid in it, you will need to remember to make your creature out of waterproof materials like plastic or metal. Oven baked clay would also work. You would also need to put something heavy inside the jar, otherwise your creature would float rather than sit still. Acrylic paint or spray paint are good for painting plastic and won’t come off in water.

We would love to see your creations! Remember to send us your photos and share with us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, using the hashtag #WollatonHall.