Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Elephant No. 65: Clothespin-Activated Mouth

I was at a yarn-spinning session yesterday, and one of the group members brought some of her fibre art from a recent show. Lynda had some lovely little kits for a make-your-own snowflake garland, and they included tiny wooden clothespins. When I happened to be near a dollar store a couple of hours later, I saw some similar clothespins, so I decided to buy a couple of packages to make an elephant.

I remembered vaguely that clothespins are among the hardest things to attach to one another if you plan to make anything recognizable, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway. I suspected I'd be cursing and flinging little clothespins all over the place before I was done, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

These were the clothespins I bought. As you can see, they're very small.

I began by clipping some clothespins together to make the head and ear. This took me half an hour, because the clothespins couldn't firmly attach to one another, and kept sproinging apart, often disintegrating in mid-air.

I tried making a body next, with the same result: clothespin shrapnel everywhere. And forget about actually attaching the body to the head.

I decided to try again, this time working on body and head at the same time. Same thing: everything sproinged apart, or twisted and fell off—usually behind the furniture.

I decided to regroup. I remembered seeing another idea for clothespins, in which the opening and closing of the clothespin serves as the opening and closing of a mouth. Obviously this would work best with something wide-mouthed like an alligator or a frog, but I thought I could make it work for an elephant.

I thought briefly about using a large clothespin, then decided I'd work with one of the little ones. They might as well make themselves useful after being so, well, useless for the previous hour or more.

Placing a clothespin on a piece of artist-quality bristol board, I drew lightly around it with a pencil. This was mostly to guide me when it came to size. I then sketched out an elephant shape, using the centre indent of the clothespin as the centre of the mouth. I was originally going to make it double-sided, then thought that it might be easier to manipulate the mouth if it were one-sided. That way, I could also hide the clothespin completely inside the shape.

Because I couldn't really bisect the entire elephant to make the mouth work, I opted to separate just the jaw from the body of the elephant.

I outlined everything with a fine permanent marker, then heat-set it with a hairdryer. As you can see, the final mouth is about half again as big as what would show when the whole thing was assembled.

I coloured everything in with watercolour pencils, then activated the pigment with water to make it look painted.

And finally, I glued the two parts of the elephant—jaw and main body—to the clothespin with double-sided tape. I stuck the mouth on first, then marked its placement on the reverse side of the main elephant.

And here it is in action. Sorry about the quality of the video.

I don't think I'll ever try clipping clothespins to one another again, but as a fallback, I kind of like this little guy. I thought he would be a lot smaller when I started, but for a small mouth like this, the mini clothespin actually worked quite well.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Because I ended up with less time than I had anticipated today, I decided to bring back one of my favourite elephants from the original Elephant a Day blog.

In 1936, a man named Richard Halliburton decided to retrace Hannibal's exploits by cross the Alps on the back of an Asian elephant named Dally—short for Elysabethe Dalrymple.

The trouble started almost as soon as Dally left her home at the Paris Zoo. Although the first bit of Halliburton's walk through the Bois de Boulogne went well, Dally balked as soon as she encountered the Porte Maillot and traffic. A taxi driver, approaching from behind, honked his horn within a couple of feet of Dally's tail. Unable to take the stress, Dally leapt into the air, then took off, trumpeting in terror, charging blindly down the Avenue de la Grande Armée at speed. Halliburton was flung off first, followed by his baggage, and finally her hollering mahout, Harel.

Chasing her did no good, serving only to panic Dally even more. She banged into parked cars, scattered pedestrians and cyclists, and caused a great deal of screaming. She was only stopped by a solid mass of traffic that had halted at a light. Squealing miserably in the midst of a tangle of cars, Dally was held by the shocked drivers until her keepers could come and get her.

Surprisingly, Halliburton was not deterred by this setback. Dally went back to the Paris Zoo, where she was given several months of traffic training. When Halliburton came back, Dally was ready for the adventure. Travelling by freight train through France, Halliburton, Dally, Harel and a truck carrying supplies and feed for Dally alighted in Martigny, Switzerland. Darkness had set in, but the sight of an elephant walking the streets of the town was still enough to send many people running away in fear. Halliburton reckoned that it might have been the first time anyone had seen an elephant in Martigny in more than two millennia.

After several days' travel, then arrived at St. Bernard's Pass and headed down into Italy. Dally perked up as they descended, actually playing a giant harmonica, which was apparently her favourite thing in the whole world. Everything seemed relatively idyllic until the party ran smack into mountain manoeuvres being conducted by the Italian Army.

Forty thousand soldiers popped up all around the little party. As Halliburton put it, "The slopes and woods suddenly swarmed with them; they filled the road, they and their military trucks, and their artillery, and their tanks and cavalry." Apparently the Italians were as surprised to see Halliburton as he was to see them. They seem to have been particularly astonished by the sight of an elephant playing a harmonica. Cheering Dally on with cries of "L'elefantessa! L'elefantessa!" soldiers came running from all over, eventually allowing the group to pass.

Halliburton had gone about half a mile down the road when disaster struck again. Although Dally had been desensitized to traffic, she had not been desensitized to the sound of gunfire. The military was on manoeuvres, after all, and a gun emplacement suddenly began firing real shells not 200 metres from where Dally was walking. The noise was too much for her, and she reared up on her hind legs, trumpeted frantically, turned around and dashed back the way she'd come in an even more uncontrollable panic than in Paris. Halliburton again hit the ground, Dally's lead rope was ripped from Harel's hands, and she charged into the midst of the troops—which obligingly scattered.

Dally was eventually brought under control, but the adventure was over. Dally, Haliburton and Harel headed back to Paris by train, where Dally was returned to the Paris Zoo. As a parting gift, Halliburton presented her with a new harmonica.

For part of Halliburton's firsthand account and a link to more photographs, click here.

Dally, Haliburton, and Dally's mahout Harel walking through Italy, 1936.
From the entertaining Beachcomber's Bizarre History Blog at

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Big Life Foundation

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