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A towering display of artistic talent

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Evelyn Svorkdal stands next to a six-foot-six giraffe, also named Evelyn, at Svorkdal's home at Trinity Tower in Estevan. Svorkdal created the giraffe for the recent safari-themed vacation Bible school at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Young people who attended the vacation Bible school (VBS) at Trinity Lutheran Church in Estevan in late August were greeted by a massive surprise – a six-foot-six talking giraffe named Evelyn, constructed via paper mâché and other materials and techniques.

It was the brainchild of Evelyn Svorkdal, a resident of the neighbouring Trinity Tower. She needed about 2 1/2 months of methodical and diligent work to bring the giraffe from concept to completion.

The idea came to her once she found out that Trinity Lutheran would be hosting a safari-themed VBS. Svorkdal wanted to create a paper mâché statue of something that likely wouldn't be found as a stuffed animal.

“When I started thinking about doing it, the ends of my fingers were literally tingling,” Svorkdal told Lifestyles.

First she tackled the project's design – ensuring that her Evelyn would be the right height, and have the proper proportions.

Then she travelled to the family farm northwest of Estevan, and picked out the necessary supplies: rope for the giraffe's tail, a roll of chicken wire for the body to hold the paper mâché together, rebar for the inside of the giraffe's body, and little bits of fur and horse hair.

The fur, from an old winter coat, was used for the giraffe's mane. Horse hair was for the horns at the top of the giraffe's head. They were the same colour.

“Everything just moved together,” said Svorkdal. “I got all the things that I needed.”

One of Svorkdal's nieces is married to a welder, and after she designed the frame, he bent out the rebar and the chicken wire for the body.

She then went to work on the paper mâché, and applied it overtop of the materials.

The head and the neck proved to be the most difficult part, she said, as she couldn't work around the materials like chicken wire. She used six blocks of foam that would be found in flower arrangements, glued them together and sculpted them. Then she applied the paper mâché and started building.

“I actually had the head and neck done quite a while ago,” Svorkdal said.

The brown spots on the giraffe's body are made of cloth that was attached to the paper mâché.

Completing the eyes and the hooves also took an extensive amount of time, she said. Svorkdal estimates that she needed a day for each eye, which were fabricated from ping pong balls and other materials.

“You have the ping pong ball and you keep painting,” said Svorkdal. “It takes about five layers to paint. And so that it doesn't get out of shape, you just use some Plaster of Paris so that it will stay firm.

“Then you pour the apoxy, which is clear, in there, and let it just start to get a little hard, and then you paint.”

Evelyn the giraffe can talk, too. A 10-foot hose enters through the rear, moves underneath the body and ends near the mouth. A person speaks into the hose to project a voice for the sculpture. The giraffe's mouth can move, too.

Svorkdal started working on the giraffe on June 6, and finished just days before the VBS. It required a little more than 200 hours of work.

“For me, it's so satisfying, to get to see that it's looking quite good,” said Svorkdal.

It's also rewarding because it's for the church and the VBS. She hopes that the giraffe enhanced the children's experience.

“I'm quite pleased because it's quite a bit like the picture, and everybody that comes in says it's exactly like it,” she said.

This was her first paper mâché project in more than 30 years. But once she started working on Evelyn, Svorkdal quickly recalled the techniques.

Her introduction to paper mâché came in 1957. Svorkdal was part of the nurse's association in Estevan, and they entered a float in the Estevan fair parade. It depicted the tale of Little Red Riding Hood; Svorkdal helped design the wolf.

“I was just so thrilled with the process of it, and how you could make anything you want,” said Svorkdal. “It doesn't matter what a person needs … you can make it.”

But most of her creations came while she and her husband were living in Stoughton. One year, for Stoughton's fair parade, she created a giant shoe as a tribute to the nursery rhyme of the old woman who lived in the shoe.

“There was room for 10 kids in it,” said Svorkdal. “It was eight feet high.”

A couple years later, Svorkdal created a paper mâché tribute to Jimmy Hales, a long-time barber in Stoughton, for the town's museum.

Svorkdal knew what Hales looked like, and, with the help of people who allowed themselves to be measured and even have their faces encased in plaster, Svorkdal pulled off the life-like depiction of Hales.

She recalls speaking with visitors to Stoughton who marvelled at the Hales mannequin.

“She said 'we're from Ontario,' and I asked 'How did you happen to come to Stoughton?'” recalled Svorkdal. “She said 'Someone made a mannequin of my grandfather, I went to see it, and it's just like grandpa.' And then she said 'I would like to meet the lady who made it.'”

Svorkdal said she broke out in goose bumps when she heard that glowing review, and quickly revealed that she had completed the project. It was a touching moment.

Other projects were completed while she lived in the town. There was a wild pig's head with an apple in it, similar to what would be found at a pig roast. It was for the Moose Mountain Choral Society's concert series, which had a medieval theme that year.

She also completed a couple projects for the drama club. One year she made two mannequins that looked just like the protagonist, who was portraying a schizophrenic. The other project was an elk, which she completed in about two weeks.

Svorkdal wants to see people take an interest in paper mache. She said she would be willing to teach a course, if necessary, so that others can learn more about the art form, because it has brought her so much enjoyment, and allowed her to create so many wonderful sculptures and mannequins.


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