Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Elephant No. 149: Milagro

I've always liked the idea and the look of milagros, so for today's elephant I thought I'd try making one out of tin.

Milagros—from milagro, the word for "surprise" or "miracle" in Spanish—are traditional folk charms used as healing and votive offerings in Latin America and European countries such as Spain and Portugal. Attached to shrines, altars and sacred objects such as statues, milagros can be purchased from street vendors, as well as in churhes and cathedrals. Milagros come in a wide variety of shapes and materials, ranging from metals such as gold, silver, tin and lead, to organic materials such as wax, wood and bone.

Collection of vintage and antique milagros.
Source: http://www.danielmitsui.com/hieronymus/index.blog/1688845/milagros/

The use of milagros likely originates among the ancient Iberians of coastal Spain—a practice that later migrated to Central and South America. Fashioned to represent whatever the petitioner is concerned about, milagros are often made in the shape of human body parts such as legs, arms, and hearts. They are also made in the shapes of animals, as a means of asking for protection or healing of pets and livestock. In addition to functioning as symbols of healing, milagros can be symbols of protection, good luck, vows and hopes. For example, a leg might represent a wish for a traveller's protection, and a house might represent a hope that the votary will soon find his or her perfect home.

Also known as ex-votos or dijes, milagros are similar to the tamata used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Today, religious belief in the power of milagros has largely died out, and endures primarily in the cultural practices of rural Europe and Latin America. Milagros are still produced, however, and are often worn as jewellery, or carried as good luck charms, similar to a rabbit's foot or shamrock.

Most modern milagros are the size of a copper penny, although some can be as large as several centimetres across. Milagros are almost always two-dimensional low-relief designs, rather than three-dimensional objects, and if mass-produced are usually die-stamped or moulded. As objects, however, milagros have also become highly collectible, and some artists are now making beautiful hand-cut and embossed milagros to incorporate in works of art, in jewellery, and as stand-alone pieces.

Heart in Hand milagro necklace by Mary Anne Enriquez.
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanwoodswalker/2249412746/

For today's elephant, I pulled out the roll of tin that I used for my repoussé and chasing elephant a few months ago. I cut a piece measuring about 7.5 cm (3 inches) square.

Next, I sketched a tiny elephant on a piece of paper.

I scribed the lines into the tin by laying the paper over the tin and simply tracing over it with a pencil.

Once the first faint lines were inscribed, I removed the paper, and went over the lines again, using the point of a bamboo skewer. To give the tin some room to push down, I placed it on top of a sheet of heavy cardboard, padded with four layers of paper towel.

Next, I cut the elephant out, leaving a thin margin beyond the inscribed outline. I then flipped it over, and used both ends of the bamboo skewer to give the elephant some depth.

After fiddling with it a bit to make some of the lines sharper and the embossing deeper, I filed off some of the sharp edges, and pierced the ring at the top with a tapestry needle.

I kept it small to make it similar to an actual milagro, although it's not quite the size of a penny.

This was a very easy activity, taking me about 45 minutes from start to finish. I'm happy with the final result, but would probably try to finish the edges a little better if I had more time. They would look interesting folded over with some jeweller's pliers, I think, but I also don't mind this as is. It would scratch me to bits if I were to try wearing it as jewellery, but as a little metal object, I quite like it—and, who knows, maybe it really can protect an elephant or two.

Elephant Lore of the Day
My original thought for today's elephant lore was to write something about elephants needing protection, but it's been a long day, so I thought I'd find something more lighthearted to write about.

Many stories have been told about the elephant's apparent sense of humour. One of my favourites comes from the Central Florida Zoo. In March 2010, the Asian elephant Mary died at the age of 63. When asked what he would miss most about Mary, her keeper said that he would miss her sense of humour. It seems that one of Mary's favourite tricks was coming up quietly behind a member of zoo staff and trumpeting loudly in their ear. When the startled person turned around, Mary would invariably wave her trunk and rumble at them, as though laughing.

Elephant's World (Thailand)