The Birdman Reliquary Cabinet

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“The Birdman Cabinet” (Reliquary of a Spellcaster) 20.75x11.5x5” mixed media.

The latest addition to my Dankquart Collection series is this reliquary cabinet featuring a fully sculpted bird man skeleton artifact, opening doors with an interior triptych painting, and a selection of spellcaster’s possessions hidden behind a removable panel.

The central part of the piece was purchased many years ago at a flea market, part of antique schoolhouse clock. I inverted the cabinet and created a base for it to sit on. From there the cabinet was divided into upper and lower halves. Two doors were created for the lower half, the upper half made use of an existing small glass door.

I knew the glass door would be the perfect showcase for a skeletal artifact and with a door that opened and closed as easily as this one did I would want to make the item inside removable. That meant that the skeletal remains would need to be finished all the way around rather than having a front only finish which would have been much simpler, but not nearly as interesting!

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The old cabinet was also deep enough to allow me to create a removable panel in the lower section, a secret compartment, behind which I could include an assortment of odd items. These would be things used by a spellcaster, presumably used to create the bird-man hybrid creature whose remains hang above.

When building a piece like this so much of the work is determined by the size of the parts used in its construction. That means that I can get a basic idea of what I want to design, paint or sculpt, but need to customize the finished art each step of the way. For example I knew I would be painting a three panel piece that would be revealed when the lower doors were opened, but did not know the actual size until the door and panel pieces were cut and fit, and using an old cabinet like this means there can be a lot of custom fitting.

Here are a couple of shots of the bird man skeleton being sculpted. This began with a wire with a styrofoam ball on one end that I used to bulk out the skull. I worked this piece in stages using epoxy clay. One session for the base of the skull, the next to create the spine, etc. I wanted to add a freestanding rib cage, a lot more involved than sculpting a rib cage shaped lump of clay. I decided to try bending wire loops for each rib section. The ends of each rib was then epoxied into a hole drilled into a corresponding vertebra. After the epoxy set I was able to form clay around each wire and then sculpt the ribs individually.

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While the ribs cured I moved on to making arm bones. These were each made as separate parts, as were the shoulder blades and collar bones. When ready they were assembled with epoxy and then molded together. The final skeleton sculpt was then given multiple passes of acrylic paint and glaze for an aged look. He was later fit with a hanger for mounting in place.

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In between sculpting sessions I worked on the door painting. This was really a fun piece to paint. I bled the composition across the three panels which really expands the width of the entire piece when the doors are opened. The final painting was treated to an application of three part craquelure varnish.

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The cloth tabs at the base of the painting allow for removal of the panel. Inside this area I added a couple of dividers and then made up a few of the spellcaster’s special ingredients. Bones, a fang, a red tailed hawk feather (found on a dog walk), some antique bottles filled with colored liquid, and a candle which has obviously been lit in the past. All of these are removable and could be replaced with different items if desired.

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The exterior was given a coat of varnish. I was careful not to erase the beautiful patina that already existed but added the rope twist pieces on either side topped with human and bird skulls, one on either side, referring to the birdman composite in the middle. Bone decorations were made for the doors, (a right and a left), and as a final touch I created a latch using the original hanger that came on the old cabinet.

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These pieces are extremely time consuming to make, nearly as complex as the Azure Angel reliquary I built but on a smaller scale, however, tremendously satisfying as completed projects. Hopefully more in the series to come.

“The Birdman Cabinet” is available for purchase. Please inquire by using the Contact page here.