Sunday, 16 September 2012

Elephant No. 350: Painted Gloves

There's a bit of a nip in the air today, so I decided to paint a pair of gloves. I'm surprised this had never occurred to me before, but when I saw a pair of painted Hallowe'en gloves yesterday, I realized me that the fingers of a pair of gloves might accommodate a trunk and tusks.

Some historical accounts suggest that gloves with separate fingers were worn at least as far back as the fifth century B.C.—and even earlier if you take Herodotus as absolute fact. These early gloves appear to have been purely practical, designed to protect the wearer's hands from injury or from the cold.

By the thirteenth century A.D., there was a guild of glovers in Paris, producing fine gloves made in skins and fur. Gloves had also become fashion accessories, particularly among women. Made of luxury fabrics such as silk and linen, fashionable gloves were often long enough to reach the elbow. Fancy gloves were soon viewed as a form of vanity, and laws were enacted in Italy against their use.

During the sixteenth century, gloves became particularly elaborate. England's Queen Elizabeth I wore gloves that were long, richly embroidered and even jewelled, setting the fashion for ever more fancy gloves. She was also quite vain about her beautiful hands, and developed a penchant for taking her gloves on and off, in order to draw attention to her hands.

Elizabethan goves, 1603–1625
Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, New York

Around this time, Parisian glovers began impregnating their animal hide gloves with scented oils. There was also a brief craze for strange leathers at the height of glove mania during the seventeenth century, including soft chicken skin and the skin of unborn calves.

A separate guild was organized for producers of knitted gloves, which were knit in silk as well as wool. Interestingly, knitted gloves were considered such a refined art that a five-year apprenticeship was required, and defective gloves were confiscated from their maker and burned.

Over the ensuing centuries, gloves have waxed and waned in popularity as a fashion accessory, but have maintained their position as a form of protection from injury, harmful materials, and the cold. There have also been many specialized gloves developed over the years, including driving gloves, latex gloves, kevlar gloves, gardening gloves, welder's gloves, cycling gloves, and gloves for use in Space.

Driving gloves made of peccary, considered the finest
material for high-end driving gloves.

For today's elephant, I bought a pair of very inexpensive knit gloves. These "magic" gloves are only magic because they're very stretchy.

Because I didn't see how I could paint these on my hands, I pulled out a pair of glove stretchers bequeathed to me by an elderly family friend. I'd never used them before, but today I was very glad to have them. Not only do they stretch the gloves, but they also keep the front and back apart, so the paint can't soak through to the other side. You could obviously also cut cardboard to fit.

I pulled the gloves over the stretchers.

I made a light sketch on each hand with a piece of chalk. I was originally going to draw a face-front elephant with the trunk running down the middle finger and a tusk on either side. Then I remembered the hand-print elephants I'd done some months ago for this blog, and decided to base my design on that configuration instead. This meant that the trunk would go on the thumb, and the four legs on the four fingers. Once I had a chalk sketch, I went over the lines lightly with white acrylic paint.

I used purple acrylic paint next, and quickly discovered two things: watery paint sucked right into the knit, and full-strength paint sat on the surface exactly where it was placed. I realized that it was likely going to take a while to layer enough paint on this surface to make the elephants show up against black.

After the purple, I layered on a few more colours, sticking to a palette of purple, blue, green, orange and red.

Because the design was still relatively light against the black of the gloves, I added a lot more paint, alternating between all the colours I'd chosen. It was a bit of a balancing act between ensuring bright colours and making sure that the paint wasn't so thick that it would crack when the gloves were worn.

Although this wasn't hard at all, it still took me nearly two hours to paint these gloves, which seemed like a lot of time to me. If I were to try this again, I would probably either paint on an underlayer of white, or slather on all the colours to make it a bit easier.

When I tried these on, the paint cracked a bit, but they looked fine once they were on my hands. I'm not planning to make multiple pairs of painted gloves anytime soon, but it was an interesting exercise, and I can see trying it again for novelty gloves, should the occasion arise.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although temple elephants are a common sight in India, they're definitely a rarity in the boroughs of New York City. In 2009, however, an elephant named Minnie made a special appearance at the dedication ceremony for a Hindu temple in Flushing, Queens.

Minnie enters the temple, 2009.
Photo: Béatrice de Géa/New York Times

As someone shouted "Make way!", a crowd dressed in traditional Indian dress parted to reveal Minnie, a 37-year-old Asian elephant from a petting zoo in Litchfield, Connecticut. Minnie wore an elaborate headdress, and was ridden by a Hindu priest carrying a large parasol. Unfazed by the noise of bells, cheers and chants, Minnie stepped off a curb on the opposite side of the street and made her way into the temple.

Minnie the elephant walking through the temple, 2009.
Photo: Béatrice de Géa/New York Times

Because the elephant-headed god Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and the god of new things, elephants often feature in temple ceremonies such as this. This particular temple—the Hindu Temple Society of North America's Ganesha Temple—is not only dedicated to Ganesha, but is also one of the oldest and largest Hindu temples in the United States.

Interestingly, freedom of religion is enshrined in the laws of Flushing itself. In a 1657 document called the Flushing Remonstrance, the signers spoke out against religious persecution. The home of one of the early adopters of this philosophy—John Bowne—now sits on a street with two Hindu temples, a Chinese church, a synagogue and a Sikh gurdwara.

Minnie turned out to be much better behaved than a fellow creature which also took part in the ceremonies. A cow brought in the previous day was petted and fed unpeeled bananas until it suddenly decided it had had enough and had to be taken back outside. Minnie, on the other hand, tolerated noise, crowds, touching, fires infused with honey and spices, and cascades of water from above.

Minnie politely accepted even the offerings that fell on the floor, 2009.
Photo: Béatrice de Géa/New York Times

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