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Skeleton-Hand Sconce
By George F. Ledo

 

There is a wonderful scene in Jean Cocteau's 1946 film Beauty and the Beast where Beauty's father enters the Beast's castle and walks down a hallway lined with sconces which are actually human arms holding candelabras. I have wanted to do something like this for a long time, and finally came up with it after discovering a texture spray paint at my local Home Depot.


Materials

  • Skeleton arm and hand (I used #CH-46R/D from Anatomical Chart Company)
  • Gray spray primer
  • Spray texture paint: Rust-Oleum American Accents, "Stone Creations"
  • Flat black spray paint
  • Galvanized metal bar, 1/8" x 3/4" x 36"
  • Faux-flame bowl
  • Threaded 3/4" lamp stem (nipple) with three nuts and two washers
  • Rigid Wrap Plaster Cloth, available through craft stores
  • Plastic or metal tubing for the power cord
  • Solderless connectors (2)
  • A good adhesive product (I used Amazing Goop, available at Home Depot)


Instead of the human arms and candelabras, however, I decided to go with a skeleton arm, shrouded in tattered mummy wraps, and holding a cast-iron flaming bowl. The texture paint is what gives the arm a nice, faux-stone finish. The piece, lit and ready to guide somebody down a dark path, is shown in Photo 1.

The sconce is fairly easy to make, although there are several steps involved. Basically, it consists of three main parts: the flame bowl, the plaque with the arm, and the hand. We will look at each of these separately, before assembling them.


The Flame Bowl
There are several faux-flame products on the market. The one I used (a "Flame Light," purchased at Spencer Gifts at the local mall) was smaller and less expensive than some of the others, and came with only two lights, both amber. Although the fan is rather noisy, it provides a fairly good flame effect.

The Flame Light came mounted on a conical base, with the power cord running thru it, and had a switch right on the cord. The first task here (after unplugging it!) was to separate the bowl from the base, which was simply a matter of removing the two screws holding the fan-and-light assembly to the bowl itself, and then unscrewing the nut holding the bowl to the threaded stem at the bottom.

The power cord (which feeds thru the stem) was attached to the transformer wires with two crimped connectors, which pulled right off. You will want to mark the wires before removing the connectors to make sure they go back correctly later. The first time I re-wired the device, the fan did not work. However, when I reversed the wires, everything was fine.

Because I wanted the bowl to look like cast iron instead of plastic, I decided to sand the surface to get rid of the shine. Then I sprayed it lightly with flat black paint and sanded it some more to give it some character. Finally, I sprayed it again (getting the paint to sputter by barely squeezing the button) to simulate pockmarks and rough areas. I used a real cast-iron pot as a reference to help me get the correct look.

The bowl has several slits on the bottom, radiating from the center, that serve as air inlets for the fan. I left these alone, although I could have covered them with papier-mâché; in which case, I would have drilled a couple of air holes on the back side. As I will note in the next section, I did drill a half-inch hole, near the bottom, for the power cord.

The light-and-fan assembly needs no preparation, although for some reason the fan itself was not attached to the grill and fell out when I turned it over. But it snapped right back into place.


The Plaque and Arm
The plaque assembly consists of five parts: the plaque itself, a metal bracket, the forearm bones, the cable conduit, and the mummy wrap. The plaque needs little preparation, other than drilling a hole for the conduit. You will also need to attach hanging hardware to the back, although a better solution would be to secure it permanently to the wall with two or three screws.

The metal bracket started out as a 15" long piece of 1/8" x 3/4" metal bar, bent at 45 degrees 2" from each end. I drilled two screw holes at the bottom, where it attaches to the plaque, and a half-inch hole at the top where the threaded stem goes thru. I also rounded off the top a bit so it follows the curve of the bowl.

For the skeleton arm, I used a Budget (Bucky) right arm and hand from Anatomical Chart Company. First I took a good look at how the arm bones fit together to make sure I put them back correctly later. Then I removed the hardware holding the two forearm bones to the upper-arm bone and to the wrist. I did not touch the wires holding the little wrist bones together. There is no need to take the wrist apart.

This left me with the radius (the shorter, curved forearm bone) and the ulna (the long, straight one) joined together at the elbow end with a small pivot device, which I left in place. But, since the other ends (where the wrist had been) were now loose, I glued them together with a dab of Amazing Goop, making sure to join them correctly.

Because the ulna is fairly straight and could help hide the bracket, I cut off some of the bone projections at the elbow end (the Coronoid Process, according to Gray's Anatomy) so the bone would lie flat against the metal.

The cable conduit was just a piece of flexible plastic tubing, run from the hole in the back of the bowl, along the top of the metal bracket, and thru the hole in the plaque.

Photo 2, a "dry run," shows everything in place and held together with tie-wraps. You will note I made a rough stand to simplify assembly: it is just two boards screwed together, like an upside-down T, with a stiffener in back. During the dry run I marked the location on the plaque where the conduit would go thru, and made sure I knew how the bones would fit together later (for instance, the radius goes on the "thumb side" of the wrist).

Photo 3 shows the top of the bracket with the bowl removed, but with the bones and plastic tubing in place, as well as the threaded stem. Notice there are two nuts, one on top and one on the bottom, holding the stem to the bracket. The washer is there to insure the bowl does not wobble on the nut.

Assembling all this was simple. First I took it all apart again, drilled the hole in the plaque for the conduit, and sprayed the bracket with a metal primer. Then, after screwing the bracket back in place, I clamped the plaque upside down on the stand and attached the ulna to the bracket with more Amazing Goop. I also twisted a bit of florist's wire at each end to further secure the bone. This left the radius out in space with a nice open gap between the bones.

Then, turning the plaque right side up, I fed the conduit thru the hole in the plaque and attached it to the top side of the bracket with more florist's wire.

Now came the fun part: the mummy wraps. I used Rigid Wrap Plaster Cloth, which comes in a 4" wide roll, and cut it in half lengthwise to make a series of strips about two inches wide by two feet long or so. After wetting the strips according to the instructions, I draped them over the arm, one at a time, to create loose folds. The idea was to make it look random and spontaneous, like the wraps just sloughed and rotted off the arm. I left some gaps between the arm bones, and pushed some of the fabric thru, to emphasize the fact that it is a skeleton. However, I made sure the bracket and tube were completely covered.

After letting it dry for a couple of hours, it was time to paint it, and I started by base-coating the whole thing with a gray primer. While this was probably not really necessary, I found that using the primer cut down on the amount of texture paint required. If you use gray paint instead of primer, make sure it is a flat gray instead of a gloss gray.

I also found that the texture paint, at least in this application, works better if used in short, light bursts, rather than trying to coat the entire piece at once. Be sure to turn the can upside down and clear out the nozzle now and then, or it will get clogged. Photo 4 shows the plaque and arm painted, before the bowl and hand are attached.


The Skeleton Hand
To prepare the hand, I started by removing the long wire (with the spring) holding the bones together laterally thru the fingers and thumb. Then I straightened out the wire loop at the end of each finger and cut it about a quarter-inch from the fingertip before folding it back under the bone. Turning the hand palm up, I spread a bit of Goop across the wrist bones (remember there is no need to take the wrist apart) to hold the hand in shape. Finally, I primed it and then sprayed it with the texture paint.


Final Assembly
Once all the components were dry, I was ready for the final assembly. The first step was to attach the empty bowl to the metal bracket with a nut and washer, making sure the conduit went thru the hole in the back. Photo 5 shows the sconce upside-down on the workbench with the bowl in place. Prior to attaching the bowl, I sprayed the end of the bracket flat black to help hide it under the hand.

It was now time to set the sconce upright and stand back and make sure everything was still straight and level. A little pushing, pulling, and twisting later, I was happy with it, so I clamped it upside down again and glued the hand in place with several small dabs of Goop at the wrist, fingertips, and middle joints. To avoid having to hold hands with the thing until the glue dried, I just leaned a few small pieces of wood against the fingers.
Finally, after the glue dried, I fed the power cord thru the conduit from the back, re-attached it to the transformer wires with two small solderless connectors, and screwed the fan assembly back in place.

The final result, looking at it from the front, is shown in Photo 6. Now, if I just make another one and mount them on the wall on either side of my favorite chair…

 

George Ledo is a theatrical designer specializing in the themed entertainment field. He lives in Clifton Park, NY, with his other half and partner in crime Donna, and can be reached at georgefl@capital.net.

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