Saturday, 10 December 2011

Elephant No. 69: Evergreen Wreath

One of my close friends suggested a few days ago that I should make an elephant wreath, so today I decided to try it.

Wreaths are normally rings made of various types of vegetation, including twigs, branches, vines, flowers, leaves and berries, as well as less conventional materials such as feathers, toys and fabric.

The wreath probably originated in Ancient Greece, where it was worn on the head as a symbol of occupation, rank and achievement. In antiquity, wreaths were commonly made of laurel leaves, because of their association with the Greek god Apollo. The story goes that Apollo fell in love with the nymph Daphne. He pursued her, and she fled. Reaching a riverbank, she begged the river god Peneus to come to her aid. Peneus turned her into a laurel tree, and from then on, Apollo wore a wreath of laurel on his head. The laurel wreath thus became associated with the things that Apollo represented: victory, achievement and status.

Laurel wreaths were accordingly used to crown victors at both the Pythian Games in the sixth century B.C., and at the Olympic Games of ancient times. Medals handed out at the modern Olympics also feature a laurel wreath.

In ancient Rome, wreaths were used in various symbolic ways. In sculptures, laurel wreaths indicated respect and honour, and adorned the heads and necks of poets, artists and nobles. Kings wore laurel wreaths to indicate sovereignty, and Julius Caesar once proclaimed the laurel wreath "a symbol of the supreme ruler." In later times, kings wore golden, gem-encrusted coronets resembling laurel wreaths, which evolved into the modern crown. Napoleon Bonaparte is famously wearing a golden laurel wreath on his head in the coronation painting by David.

Detail from The Consecration of Emperor Napoleon I
and Coronation of the Empress Josephine
, 1805–1807
Jacques-Louis David (1754–1825)
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris

These days, wreaths are most commonly seen around Christmas. The first known association of wreaths with Christmas dates back to the Lutherans of sixteenth-century Germany. Constructed of evergreens to represent the everlasting life brought by Jesus, these early Christmas wreaths were also made in a closed circle to represent God, who has no beginning or end.

In 1839, Johann Wichern took the tradition one step farther. Fashioning a wreath from a cart wheel, he used it as a tool to educate children about the meaning of Christmas, while also helping them count down the days leading up to the holiday. Each Sunday in Advent, starting with the fourth Sunday before Christmas, he put a white candle in the wreath. For every day in between, he put in a red candle.

In other traditions, the evergreens used in wreaths are thought to represent strength, given that the boughs are able to withstand the harshness of winter. Wreaths also express honour and remembrance at funerals, and represent fertility and constancy when worn on the heads of women and men in the traditional wedding ceremonies of many cultures.

To make today's elephant, I went out this morning to the equestrian park where I ride, and cut some greenery. I tried to choose a few different types, with a particular preference (in my mind) for eastern white pine and scotch pine. I also snipped off a few balsam fir branches, and some weird spiky pine to use as accents. I also plucked a bract of sumac that I thought I might use for something.

For wire, I pulled out some covered floral wire and some heavier wire I had hanging around, and well as some florist's tape. I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, but these seemed like a good place to start.

First, I wired a couple of pieces of eastern white pine (I think) to some pieces of balsam fir, to form the top of the head and part of the trunk.

I decided the trunk was too short, so I wired on some more balsam.

Next I added some more white pine to the back of the head to form an ear.

My wiring technique leaves much to be desired . . .

. . . so I wired some more greenery over top of it. To finish, I wired on a branch of balsam for the lower part of the head, and stuck the weird spiky pine into some of the gaps.

Because this is a wreath and should be able to hang from something, I wired on a sort of hanger at the back. I already have a wreath on my front door, so I hung the elephant from the door to our back garden. It looks a bit like a woolly mammoth with a vague resemblance to Ringo Starr, but I was actually pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In addition to eating as much as 169 kilograms (375 pounds) of vegetation a day, elephants supplement their diet by digging up the ground to get salt and minerals. Using their tusks to turn over the soil, elephants pick up chunks of dirt in their trunks, tossing it into their mouths to dissolve the nutrients.

This activity often results in holes that are several feet deep, which has the added bonus of making vital minerals accessible to other animals as well. In Africa, for example, elephants have hollowed out deep caverns in a volcanic mountain on the Uganda border. And in India and Sumatra, elephants seeking minerals have carved entire hills over time, creating hollowed-out areas that now provide valuable food and shelter to a wide range of native wildlife.  

To Support Elephant Welfare 

World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation

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