Sunday, 23 September 2012

Elephant No. 357: Cardboard Chandelier

The package for this called it an "ice chandelier", but it's neither made of ice, nor strictly speaking a chandelier, since I think putting candles anywhere near this would cause a very interesting fire.

That being said, I could see making an elephant with this kit, and it was only three dollars, so I thought I'd give it a try.

A chandelier—derived from various words for "candle"—is a branched lighting fixture with arms that bear either candles or lightbulbs. Although we normally think of chandeliers as sparkling crystal constructions, any branched lighting fixture is technically a chandelier.

The earliest chandeliers often consisted of two wooden crosspieces, fitted with spikes to hold candles. First used among wealthy Europeans during the Middle Ages, chandeliers were lit near ground level, then hoisted aloft on a chain or rope.

Medieval chandelier from King René's
Tournament Book
, 1460.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, more elaborate forms were developed, often featuring large wheel-like designs. Because candles were expensive, the larger the chandelier, the higher the implied status of the homeowner.

By the eighteenth century, as metal-casting and glassmaking techniques improved, highly decorative chandeliers were produced, featuring long, curved arms, gilding, and—perhaps most importantly of all—large quantities of lead crystal. To make the most of the limited light available from candles, everything from gilded picture frames to the silver and gold in a woman's dress was designed to reflect light. Lead crystal was thus a major leap forward in evening illumination, and crystal chandeliers became all the rage.

In the nineteenth century, with the introduction of gaslight, many chandeliers were converted to piped gas. Others were designed specifically for this exciting new form of illumination. By the end of the century, as electricity became both more dependable and more widely available, chandeliers were converted yet again.

The world's largest chandelier is thought to be the one in the Hassan Sharbatley Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. The world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier is located in the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. Given to Turkey by Queen Victoria, it has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tonnes. The Dolmabahçe Palace, incidentally, has the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world.

Crystal chandelier in Dolmabahçe Palace,
Istanbul, Turkey: a gift from Queen Victoria.

For today's elephant, this is the kit I had.

And this is what it contained.

I started by putting the armature together.

I then realized that there was no way I was going to be able to visualize a three-dimensional floaty elephant if I didn't hang it up to work on it. After that, I completely forgot to photograph what I was doing. Essentially, however, each piece of foil-covered cardboard is linked with small plastic rings that lock into place.

To give you an idea of how this was constructed, I hung a couple of round discs from each of the rings closest to the core of the armature. I then linked these to one another by bridging the gaps with an additional disc.

I then constructed the trunk by linking discs and diamond shapes, sometimes using two plastic rings instead of one, in order to make it hang properly.

For the ears, I simply added a couple of discs and diamond shapes to two of the side branches.

I didn't use the ice markers. They were interesting, but I didn't like the way they looked on the discs. My original idea had been to write the names of elephants I've written about in this blog over the past year, as well as numerous words for "elephant" in different languages. But it looked ugly when I did that, so I decided to leave the whole thing grey and silver.

It took me about an hour to construct this, which seemed quite reasonable. It's a bit on the plain side, but it does catch the light quite nicely, so it might look interesting tucked away in a corner somewhere. It is definitely weighted towards the front, so I might add some kind of weight to the back, inside the central ring, just to balance things out.

It's definitely an abstract piece, but I was rather pleased with the look of it when I was finished. It looks a lot like an elephant in real life, and I may even add some more sparkle with a few beads at some point. Actually, if I ever get truly ambitious, I might redesign this as a functioning electrical fixture, using glass and crystal.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants often die of a broken heart. This is usually due to the sudden loss of someone—either elephant, human, or even another animal—with whom they have bonded.

In a 2006 New York Times article, Charles Siebert related the story of an elephant that had been hand-raised by the du Zulueta family in Uganda. The family lived on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park, where Dr. Zulueta had established a malaria-eradication program.

Local villagers came across a baby elephant that had been orphaned by poachers, and gave the elephant to the doctor and his family, who housed it in the family garage. As the elephant grew, however, Dr. and Mrs. Zulueta wondered what they would do when it outgrew the garage. A decision was made to give the elephant to the Entebbe Zoo in Kampala.

Although the Zoo gave the growing elephant all he needed in the way of appropriate food and care, he died soon after. Having grown up with a close-knit "family group", he pined away for lack of companionship, and simply lost the will to live.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust tells a similar story. Years ago, she was hand-rearing a baby elephant named Aisha, and for six months rarely left the elephant's side. She left for a short time to attend her daughter's wedding, and when she returned, she discovered that Aisha passed away. Deprived of her closest companion, the elephant had essentially died of a broken heart. Since that time, elephants at the Wildlife Trust have never been left in the care of a single keeper.

And then there's the story of little Nyika, another resident of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Orphaned in July of this year near Kenya's border with Somalia—where poaching is now so rampant and so violent that even rangers are being killed—Nyika was terribly emaciated. He had been deprived of his mother's milk for some time, and was also severely traumatized.

Soon realizing that the ten-month-old elephant was failing to thrive, staff at the Trust drew blood and sent it away for analysis. His white blood cell count was normal, which meant he wasn't suffering from an infection. The vet recommended a B-vitamin supplement and tender loving care.

Despite the team's best efforts, however, Nyika was so unhappy that he couldn't be coaxed to bond with humans or other elephants. He spent a lot of time on his own, despite the attempts of several other elephants to befriend him. The team watched helplessly as little Nyika essentially gave up. He died this month, having never really recovered from the loss of his herd—under circumstances that can only have been horrific in the highly mechanized world of modern poaching.

Nyika (centre) being comforted by Balguda, 2012.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Fauna & Flora International


  1. Wow, this chandelier is great piece of art and nothing seems in it handmade. Your kit has done a marvelous job and I think you should try more designs.