Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Elephant No. 289: Paper Clip Sculpture

I was never really one for making paper-clip sculptures when I worked in an office, but I thought it might be worth trying to make something with paper clips for today's elephant.

Apart from being useful toys in an office environment, paper clips are primarily used to hold sheets of paper together—hence the name. The first known patent for a bent wire paper clip was granted to Samuel B. Fay by the U.S. Patent Office in April 1867. Fay's design was made for attaching paper tickets to fabric, although the patent noted that the clip could also be used to hold papers together. A later design, patented in 1877, specifically stated that it was meant to fasten newspapers. None of the 50 or so designs patented before 1899, however, look like today's paper clips.

Although not patented, the paper clip made by The Gem Manufacturing Company in Britain has been clipping papers together since the 1870s. Advertising itself as superior to ordinary straight pins for binding papers, the Gem paper clip was widely adopted almost right away. In 1894, the Cushman & Denison company of New York City registered "Gem" as a paper clip trademark. Paper clips are still sometimes called "Gem clips" today, and in Swedish, the word for any type of paper clip is literally "gem".

Early ad for Gem paper clips manufactured in the U.S.
Source: http://www.officemuseum.com/paper_clips.htm

In 1899, a patent was granted to William Middlebrook of Connecticut for a machine designed to produce wire paper clips. Since then, a wide range of paper clips have been patented. Although they feature slight variations such as pointed rather than rounded ends, bent centres, or corrugated wire, most still look more or less like the early Gem clip.

Hard to believe, but there is also a paper-clip controversy. Since the middle of the twentieth century, a Norwegian named Johan Vaaler has also been credited with inventing the paper clip. While his design was similar to the Gem, it lacked the final turning and wasn't as effective. Vaaler apparently produced his version without any idea that a better model was already on the market.

Despite the fact that it has been proven that Vaaler was not the first to invent the modern paper clip—and the fact that his design was not even as good as the Gem—many years after Vaaler's death, Norwegians claimed him as the father of the paper clip. Since the 1950s, Norwegian dictionaries and encyclopaedias have even listed Vaaler as the inventor, and the myth has since been accepted as fact in many countries.

Vaaler's paper clip design, patented in 1899 and 1901. Note the lack of an inner loop.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vaaler_clip.svg

People who have studied the history of the lowly paper clip suggest that Vaaler's patents, although valid, were granted by patent offices who paid little attention to minor differences between similar products. The fact remains that the original Gem design predated Vaaler's by a few decades.

The giant paper clip in Sandvik, Norway, 2004.
Interestingly, it shows the Gem version, not the one
patented by Vaaler.
Photo: Lars Roede
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BI-binders.jpg

Although most of us are familiar with paper clips that are oblong with curved ends, there is an astonishing array of designs today. In addition to shapes that range from dog bones and stars to airplanes and animals, paper clips can be made of plain wire, wire coated in coloured plastic, or even plastic alone.

The main thing is that there must be torsion and slight give in the paper clip material itself, and a design that allows friction and clamping between wire and paper. As long as a reasonable number of pages is placed between the tongues of the clip, it will hold quite well. If too many pages are inserted, however, the elasticity of the wire can be exceeded, causing permanent deformation of the clip, and an inability to hold.

Elephant-shaped paper clips.
Source: http://www.clippa.co.uk/elephant_-_promotional_bespoke_shaped_

In recent years, paper clips have also become a popular sculptural medium. In addition to small, flat sculptures involving simple interlinked clips, some artists have produced large three-dimensional works involving thousands of paper clips, either gluing or interlinking the clips together.

Paper clip hand by Stephanie Robinson. The hand contained 3,600 paper clips,
glued together.
Source: http://my-art-beat.blogspot.ca/2010/10/my-previous-work.html

For today's elephant, I wasn't sure what kind of sculpture I'd make. I had about three or four hundred paper clips to play with, in two sizes and a couple of shapes, so I decided to simply see what developed. Other than making the odd chain of paper clips, I'd never tried making anything with them, and most of the instructions online involved unbending the clips and making different shapes with them. That wasn't really what I had in mind today, so I decided to wing it.

This was the stash of paper clips I had on hand.

I started by lining up a group of longer paper clips—eight, in this case—and linked them together with a smaller clip. I "locked" them together in the internal loop of the smaller clip.

I then did the same thing at the other end. This was what I envisaged as the body of the elephant, or at least a core for the elephant's body. I had no idea what I was doing, so I actually wasn't sure what this would end up being.

I looped a pair of longer paper clips through each of the ends, flanking the smaller clips. I thought these might work as legs. Or a support for legs. Or something like that.

I turned my attention to the head next. I made the basic form using the same method as I had for the body: aligning some small clips, and locking them into the inner loops of two smaller clips. I thought the parts that were sticking out might work as tusks.

To make the trunk, I linked three paper clips through the front of the head area, then two, then one for the final length. I also added a pair of star-shaped paper clips for ears. To hold everything together while I decided what to do next, I looped a large red paper clip through the top of the head. My original idea was to use the large red clip to attach the head to the body, but that didn't really work.

After this, I mostly just messed about with the paper clips. It took a fair amount of engineering—not my forte—to add the head to the body, tighten the body, and add a tail. I did this primarily by running small paper clips through the back of the head, then through parts of the body, all the way to the tail area. To balance the tension on the back, I did the same thing along the stomach. I then linked things together with a single paper clip for a tail.

From start to finish, this took me a little over an hour, mostly because I didn't really know what I was doing. It was a somewhat frustrating activity, in part because paper clips are surprisingly limited in what they can do. They can only take so much pushing and pulling before they start to deform in catastrophic ways. They also have a strange attraction to one another, and resist being removed once they've been securely nested. My worktable ended up littered with twisted paper-clip wreckage.

In the end, however, this turned out better than I expected. It stands up on its own quite well, can turn its head, and can be manipulated with gentle squeezing. Engineering is never my strong suit, so I'm actually quite proud of myself. But I'm still not making another one anytime soon.

Elephant Lore of the Day
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Ken mentioned that, for the past thirty years or so, a large iron elephant has stood outside the Regina Public Library in Regina, Saskatchewan. Created by Canadian artist Russell Yuristy in 1981 using milled iron bars, the elephant is nearly life-sized and weighs 2,268 kilograms (5,000 pounds).

Named "Rusty" by local elementary students, the elephant was originally meant as a temporary display, helping to promote Yuristy's exhibition of photographs and drawings inside the Library's Dunlop Art Gallery. Rusty became so popular with visitors, however, that the Library bought him and put him on permanent outdoor display.
Yuristy spent two years making Rusty. And, because many of his sculptures are found on playgrounds, the artist considers children to be his most important critics.

Rusty by Russell Yuristy, 1981.
Photo: Wendalyn Johnson Donnan
Source: http://www.roadsideattractions.ca/rusty.htm

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

No comments:

Post a Comment