Sunday, 30 September 2012

Elephant No. 364: Kaleidoscope

I've loved kaleidoscopes ever since I was little, and have a small collection of at least three different types.

The word "kaleidoscope"—from the Greek kalos (beauty/beautiful), eidos (shape) and skopeo (to see/observe)—was coined in 1817 by Scottish inventor Sir David Brewster, who developed the device as an outgrowth of his experiments on the polarization of light.

His first design consisted of a tube with a pair of mirrors at one end, translucent disks at the other, and beads sandwiched in between. The kaleidscope was an instant success when it hit the market in 1817, with Brewster and his manufacturing partner Philip Carpenter selling 200,000 kaleidoscopes in London within the first three months. Realizing that they would never be able to keep up with the demand, the men licensed other companies to produce kaleidoscopes.

Toy kaleidoscope, ca. 1965.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

Kaleidoscopes were originally produced as a science tool, but were soon being made in cheaper toy versions. Most kaleidoscopes today consist of a tube, a trio of mirrors formed into a triangle, and a selection of beads, bits of coloured glass and shiny shapes, floating freely in a small receptacle at the opposite end from the eyepiece. As light enters the receptacle end of the kaleidoscope, and the user turns the receptacle, multifaceted and ever-changing patterns are created.

In addition to the typical mirrored tube, there are also liquid versions. Tiny coloured pieces suspended in a thick liquid drift past a mirrored tube, creating the pattern.

Inexpensive liquid kaleidoscope.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

And finally, there are teleidoscopes. These also employ mirrors; however, instead of having integral coloured pieces, they reflect objects outside the tube, producing a similar multifaceted effect.

Teleidoscope, ca. 1960.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

Although the vast majority of modern telescopes consist of inexpensive cardboard tubes, plastic mirrors and plastic beads, there is also a high-end market for kaleidoscopes produced by artists. Many craft galleries carry artisan kaleidoscopes and teleidoscopes, and they are a popular item at craft fairs.

For today's elephant, I bought this kaleidoscope kit, made for children.

And this is what it contained.

I didn't like the purple flowered paper provided for the outside of the tube, so I decided I would paint elephants on the outside, using a sheet of canvas from a canvas pad.

I cut the canvas into the appropriate sizes for the main part of the tube, the receptacle, and the little band dividing the two, and drew some elephants on all three pieces.

I painted everything next, bearing in mind that there would be a small overlap when everything was glued.

I glued all of the canvas pieces to the tube with a glue gun. I glued only the seams at the back, but made sure to smooth the canvas tightly around the tube before glueing the overlap.

Next, I assembled the mirrors. The kit included special tape to hold them in the requisite triangle formation. I then inserted the assemblage into the tube.

I planned to use many of the coloured bits that came with the kit, but I thought there should be at least one elephant shape in the mix. I didn't have any coloured plastic handy, so I bought this plastic food container for a dollar, then cut out three small elephant shapes. This was probably the hardest part of the whole activity, because the plastic was a bit thick, and wasn't very forgiving, splitting and cracking at will.

I put the elephants in the little plastic receptacle that goes in the bottom of the kaleidoscope tube, and added a bunch of other beads from the selection that came with the kit. When I was happy with the mix, I pushed the cup into the tube.

Now came the fun part. The three photos below show my best attempts at capturing my three pink elephants. You have to squint a bit, but at least I know they're there.

If I hadn't decided to redesign the decoration on the outside of the tube, and if I hadn't decided to cut out little elephants, this would probably have taken an hour or so. As it was, it took me most of the afternoon.

That being said, I really like the final result, and think it will make a nice little addition to my existing collection.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In 1887, Toby the elephant was added to Moore Park in Sydney, Australia. For many years, she was a great favourite with the public, performing a wide range of clever tricks. She could remove her keeper's hat when asked, take a handbell in her trunk and ring it, and ride an elephant-sized seesaw.

In those days, Australia's circuses and menageries often travelled by sea. And Toby, like all elephants, had a very good memory. On one voyage, a deckhand fed Toby an orange loaded with hot pepper—a rather cruel thing to do, considering the sensitivity of an elephant's trunk and mouth. On a much later voyage, the same deckhand happened to be passing by, when Toby grabbed him with her trunk. She tried to dump him overboard, but the man landed in the rigging and was saved.

Over time, as do many other performing elephants, Toby became more sour and less reliable. Sold to the Wirth Circus, she continued to perform, but was prone to tantrums. In July 1904, in a fit of pique, she broke free of her chains and rampaged through the grounds where the circus was encamped. She broke the pole holding up the main tent, the curtains and a stage, then dashed across the grounds, pulled down some fencing, and trampled a few trees. She only came to a stop when she happened upon an interesting snack consisting of a sack of wheat and a half-dozen loaves of bread. This restored her temper, and she was safely led back to her enclosure.

Toby continued to perform with the Wirth Circus until about 1914, when she collapsed on a bridge, holding up horse-drawn traffic for twelve hours. Although she recovered, she collapsed again about a year later, dying in April 1915 after an illness lasting about three days. It was suggested at the time that she was close to eighty years old—which would have been exceptionally old for an elephant. It is more likely, however, that she was born in 1877, making her only 37 or 38 at the time of her death.

A picture of Toby from a newspaper article.

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

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Elephant No. 363: Party Blowout

I didn't actually know the name of this type of party favour—and I'm still slightly suspicious that "blowout" is a made-up descriptive name—but since I'm almost done with this yearlong project, a party favour seemed like the thing to make for today's elephant.

Also known as party horns, blowers, noisemakers, jolly Jonathans, squeakers and fizoos, party blowouts consist of paper cones attached to paper tubes that are flattened and rolled into coils. Most contain a coiled metal strip to make the tube retract again, as well as a small diaphragm, so that when you blow into the mouthpiece, it makes a noise.

The most familiar type of party blowout is the kind with a simple tube and a plastic mouthpiece. When I was little, they always had a small feather on the end as well, which fluttered when the tube was fully extended. Although I don't usually keep these, I did keep a rather unusual blowout with three extending tubes, brought back from India by my father.

Triple-tubed Divali noisemaker from India.
Photo: Sheila Singhal

There are also blowouts with novelty faces attached, which is the kind I'll be making for today's elephant. I had actually forgotten about the face version, until I saw this package in the party supplies section of a discount store. None of the packages contained an elephant face, which seemed odd to me.

This was dead simple to make, of course. All I had to do was disassemble one of the blowouts from the package, and use the headpiece as a template.

I traced around two of the animals on a piece of artist-quality bristol board. It obviously didn't matter which one I used as a guide, because it was going to be altered, anyway. To hedge my bets, however, I chose two different shapes and superimposed them. The main thing was to get the general size right, and to get the openings in approximately the right spot.

Once I'd traced around everything, I expanded it to add the elephant's features, obviously sans trunk.

This looked a bit like a vampire bat, which worried me, so I cut it out and fit one of the plain blowouts through the opening before I went to the trouble of painting it.

It looked okay, so I painted everything with gouache. I thought about painting the tube, but the harlequin pattern already had grey in it, and I didn't know what might happen if I added paint. I feared I might end up with a dissolving paper mash, so I left well enough alone.

To reassemble this, I simply slipped the new face over the basic blowout. And voilà!

And this is what it looked like in action. The squeaker on this blowout was eccentric, so I added my own sound effects.

This was very simple, and might make an interesting party activity for children—or adults, for that matter. In fact, I might try to coax some friends into trying this sometime, just for the fun of seeing what they come up with.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants use their trunks to make a wide range of sounds, from loud trumpeting to a squeak said to be as tiny as that of a mouse. As far as I can tell, this is the general repertoire of trunk noises:

Loud trumpeting: Anger or fear. In a bull elephant, loud trumpeting—said to be "loud enough to bring down the walls of Jericho"—is often an expression of dominance. In a female, it is often an expression of anger, or warning to anyone foolish enough to get in between a mother and her calf. In both genders, it can also be a signal to flee.

Medium trumpeting: This is the most varied type of trumpeting, and can be used as a form of greeting between elephants, a means of saying goodbye, or even a way of expressing excitement and pleasure, as at feeding time. Elephants will also trumpet to express moderate displeasure, or to tease their human keepers.

Squealing: Baby elephants squeal partly because they aren't yet equipped to trumpet. They also squeal when feeling anxiety or distress. Never get between a squealing baby and its mother.

Screaming: This is, as in humans, an out-and-out distress call. Elephants scream when attacked by predators, poachers and snakes. They scream when frightened or cornered. They scream to let other elephants know there is an extreme threat in the area. They scream as they flee.

Squeaking: Even the largest bull elephant can make a tiny squeak. This is the sound many elephants emit when unsure, nervous or slightly anxious.

When elephants rumble, it doesn't involve the trunk at all, but a vibration in their vocal chords, just as we use ours to speak or sing. Many rumbles are at the infrasonic level, inaudible to human ears.

Trumpeting elephant, Tanzania, 2005.
Photo: Matt Lindop

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

Friday, 28 September 2012

Elephant No. 362: Glass Vials

For a couple of weeks now, I've been eyeing a set of glass vials in a discount store, trying to think of a way to use them for an elephant. I admit that I was drawn to them mostly because I like little containers of any kind, but I didn't want to buy them unless I could make something interesting. I thought of filling them with sand or beads, grouping them, glueing them, and even buying multiples and stacking them. Then it occurred to me that I could simply paint them to produce a modular elephant herd.

The word "vial" comes from the Greek phiale and the Latin phiala, meaning "a broad, flat container". Technically speaking, a vial or phial is a small glass or plastic bottle. Vials are most commonly used to store medications and small samples.

Glass vial discovered in Syria, ca. 4th century A.D.
Collection of the Louvre, Paris
Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Glass vials have been around for millennia, used for everything from medicines, herbs and spices, to tomb offerings of gold and blood. Although traditionally sealed with corks, wax or even glass stoppers, modern vials often have flip-tops, snap caps and other closures. The bottom of a vial is usually flat. The small vials used in laboratories—often with a volume of 10 ml at most—are known as "bijou bottles" or "McCartney's bottles".

For today's elephant, this was the set of four vials I bought, for under $1.50. They range in size from 7 m to 20 ml (0.24 to 0.68 U.S. fl. oz.), so I guess a couple of them are technically "bijou bottles".

I already had a set of glass paints that I'd used for my painting on glass post, so I decided to use those, along with some regular acrylic paint.

 My idea was fairly simple: use all four vials to create a mini-herd of elephants.

I thought briefly about drawing elephants on the vials first, then decided I'd rather just get started. I began by roughing in an elephant on each of the four vials. The four pictured below are not necessarily my first attempt at each. For one or two of them, I wiped off my first try while it was still wet and started over.

These were pretty streaky-looking when the light shone through, so I waited for them to be dry to the touch, then glopped on more grey paint. When that dried, I added a few black lines for definition, and a bit of pink in the ears, the tip of the trunk, and on the toes. The elephant with an open mouth also got a bit of pink in the mouth, and two elephants got white tusks.

My idea from the beginning was to make a series of little bottles that could be grouped together to resemble a herd of elephants. I thus took advantage of the clear glass to draw some long grass on the side opposite to the elephants.

To finish up, I added dots of green under the elephants, and dots of gold above the elephants' heads, and above the grass on the reverse.

It only took me about two hours to paint all four of these, but that was partly because I didn't wait for the different layers of paint to dry. Although all of the paints dried relatively quickly, I was definitely risking smudges—particularly when it came to the dots. If you try this, I would recommend a bit more patience than I had, just in case. I didn't smudge anything this time; but if I had, it would have been pretty difficult to remove the offending area on something this small.

In real life, these are quite fun. The light doesn't shine through them as strongly as it does in these photographs, so they don't look quite as streaky. They're also fun to group, and actually look a little like a herd of elephants seen in the distance, which was exactly what I'd hoped for.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Suleiman was an Asian elephant presented to Archduke Maximilian II in the sixteenth century. Born in the stables of the King of Ceylon in 1540, Suleiman was originally presented as a gift to the Prince of Portugal in 1542.

Although flattered by the auspicious and generous gift, the Portuguese ultimately found Suleiman's care and maintenance too expensive and complicated. They accordingly offered him to Archduke Maximilian, who happened to be the Prince's uncle. Suleiman was sent to Spain then Genoa by ship, and finally overland through the Alps to Austria. He arrived in Vienna in 1552.

Woodcut of Suleiman, ca. 1552.

Suleiman proved highly popular with the Austrian people. He was drawn and painted, and was celebrated in poems and songs. He was installed with some ceremony in the menagerie at Kaiser-Ebersdorf castle, but died only a year and a half later, in December 1553.

Suleiman's afterlife was rather bizarre. Although the Archduke had a commemorative medal struck featuring the elephant, he also had no qualms about having Suleiman's body vivisected and distributed across the Holy Roman Empire.

Suleiman's right front foot and part of a shoulderblade were given to the Mayor of Vienna, who had them fashioned into a chair that can still be found in Kresmünster Abbey. His skin was stuffed and put on display in Vienna until 1572, when Maximilian decided to give it to Albert, Duke of Bavaria.

Suleiman's stuffed effigy survived for centuries in the Wittlesbach royal collection and the Munich Residenz. Ultimately transferred to the Bavarian National Museum, Suleiman was stored, forgotten, in a cellar. Although his effigy survived even bombing raids on Munich in 1943, conditions in the cellar were damp, and Suleiman's skin mildewed. Following the war, Suleiman was dismembered yet again, and his hide was sold—rather poignantly—for shoe leather.

That isn't the end of his story, however. So famous was Suleiman that several books have been written about him, including the recent novel, The Elephant's Journey by José Sararamago. He has also been featured in at least two exhibitions—one of which was presented in Vienna, where Suleiman had been so celebrated in life.

Commemorative medal designed by
Michael Fuchs following Suleiman's
death in 1554.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Fauna & Flora International