Saturday, 8 September 2012

Elephant No. 342: Clothes Pegs

I bought a set of six clothes pegs a few days ago, thinking I might use them for my stacked wooden boxes elephant. Then I realized that I could paint them instead.

Wooden clothes pegs were created by Jérémie Victor Opdebec in the early nineteenth century. His early design had no springs, as a clothespin does. Instead, it featured two wooden prongs that were close enough to grip clothing on a clothesline. In England, the production of clothes pegs later became associated with gypsies, who fashioned them from small lengths of wood such as ash or willow.

By 1853, a new design had emerged. Invented by David Smith of Vermont, U.S.A., these new "clothespins" were formed of two pieces of wood, held together with a spring. By pinching the two ends of wood together, the clothespin could be opened. From that time to this, the designs for both clothes pegs and clothespins have remained virtually unchanged. 

Clothespins have also found their way into spheres well beyond the laundry room. Artist Claes Oldenburg, for one, created a large clothespin sculpture, which is located in Philadelphia across from City Hall. There is also a 1.5-metre (5-foot) clothespin-shaped grave marker in the Middlesex, Vermont cemetery, marking the resting place of David Smith.

Clothes pin by Claes Oldenburg, 1976, located in front of
City Hall, Philadelphia, U.S.A.
Photo: Spike Brennan, 2007

Clothespins are also commonly used on film sets. Used to attach gel filters to the "barn doors" of hot lights, clothespins are valued for their inability to conduct heat, making them safe to touch—unlike the lights. Given nicknames such as "C47", "47", "bullet", "ammo" or "peg", they are often carried in rows on crew members' belts, making them look a little like cartridge belts. The wooden pieces are also sometimes removed and reversed, resulting in a "C74".

A "C74" on the left and a "C47" on the right. The "C74" is simply a reversed
version of a standard wooden clothespin. The C47 is generally used to attach gel
filters to movie lights, and the C74 is used to remove scrims.

The name "C47" was actually coined in 1984 on a shoot in Ohio. Monte Sanborn and Chuck Dutrow came up with the name to give the client confidence in the professionalism of the production company, since "C47" sounded better than "clothespin". The C was for "Chuck", and 47 was Monte's lucky number.

Because of their shape, one-piece clothes pegs are often used in the production of stringed instruments such as guitars and mandolins, to glue on kerfing.

Clothes pegs are often also painted as a form of folk art or craft. 

Painted clothes pegs with pom-poms by Anjie, 2012.

For today's elephant, I had six clothes pegs. I started by painting them all a uniform grey with acrylic paint. It took nearly 90 minutes to paint these, which I thought was a bit much.

At this point, I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. The general shape of a clothes peg doesn't really correspond to an elephant's shape. The peg is long and skinny, with a tiny round top, and no ears.

Eventually, I thought I had a basic design figured out, so I painted black outlines on each of the six pegs, using a thinned grey-black. This also took an inordinate amount of time. I made an executive decision to complete only two of these today.

Next, I painted some pink in the ears, at the tip of the trunk, and on the toenails.

They were now ready to be dressed. I thought they might look interesting with some fancy clothes and a bit of gold, so that's the route I took.

In the end, I was happy with the way these turned out, but painting six of them would have taken me more time than I wanted to spend today. The hardest part was sketching the elephant outlines onto each of the grey clothes pegs. Adding the bits of pink took very little time, and adding clothes took less time than painting the original outlines. It was also more fun.

I'm not sure what purpose these will serve in my household. Maybe I'll use them to clip papers together or something. They are kind of cute in real life, however, and at some point I'll definitely paint clothes on the other four.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although elephants face significant danger in some parts of Africa, sometimes they luck out. That doesn't mean, however, that they've forgotten.

Lominyek—whose name means "the lucky one" in Kenya's Samburu dialect—came to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in July 1996 with a bullet hole in his leg. The hole had been caused by a ricochet from one of the many bullets that had killed his mother.

Lominyek was a victim of tribal violence in northern Kenya, where the Samburu people are locked in constant combat with Somali bandits. As a result, Lominyek had grown up in an area in which all humans are seen as the enemy.

When he arrived at the shelter, it was discovered that the bullet was still lodged in his leg, so he was sedated and the bullet was removed. As soon as he came around, however, the first thing he wanted to do was kill any human in sight. He launched himself at one of the keepers, who was watching over Lominyek during his recovery. The keeper managed to leap over the partition into an adjoining stable just in time. After several attempts to break down the door, Lominyek eventually calmed down.

The next morning, staff let two younger orphans into Lominyek's stable. They rumbled their greetings, and were eager to show him the ropes. By sunrise the next day, the three were fast friends. When they emerged from the stable and Lominyek found himself once again among humans, however, he trumpeted wildly and charged off into the bush—with his two new friends in tow, and keepers bringing up the rear.

Several hours later, much to Daphne Sheldrick's astonishment, Lominyek reappeared, escorted by the two younger elephants, with keepers following at a distance. Unfortunately, it was also the hour in the day when tourists are allowed into the shelter to watch the orphans' noon mudbath.

On this particular day, a large crowd had turned up, and staff were apprehensive. Would Lominyek panic again, and perhaps trample several visitors? It seemed, however, that Lominyek's new elephant companions had managed to let him know that there was nothing to fear from the humans now crowding around him. Taking his cue from the others, Lominyek hesitantly offered visitors the tip of his trunk. He withdrew his trunk as soon as anyone touched it, and his ears went up to signal his anxiety, but he remained calm and well behaved.

When Lominyek was released into Tsavo National Park five months later, he was thrilled to scent other elephants. As soon as he saw one of the older females, however, he ran up to her and began head-butting her in punishment. It is thought that Lominyek may have had a big sister who was similar in size, and that he was expressing his displeasure at the memory of his sister's abandonment when their mother was killed.

Lominyek's story has a happy ending however. Today, at the age of 17, he has become an established member of the wild Tsavo East elephant herd.

Lominyek with Daphne Sheldrick and one of the keepers, July 1996.

To Support Elephant Welfare

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