Contemplating life in the office

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Contemplating life in the office
mixed media assemblage
doll head, old wooden clock, pen nibs
by Dale Copeland, 2008

It was the pen nibs that did it.
I was given an unopened box of 1 gross (144) standard Post Office Pen nibs. Enough to last you a life in the office.
Those old offices where your entire working lifespan would be spent writing rows of figures in account books.
I'd been given that wonderful wooden-cogged clock and loved it, and also that beautifully battered old doll's head.
But until the pen nibs arrived I hadn't felt able to use either of them ... they were too good, too separate, too alone.
Opening that box of pen nibs, seeing the beauty/horror of all those bronze shiny nibs and thinking of the hours and days and years of dipping into inkwells, carefully writing .....
Well, it set me going.
I found an old box the right size and cut slots for the clock cogs to poke through. (If you turn the back one by hand, all the others turn, it's a lovely thing.)
I wanted the nibs to be a patterned background (not quite regular .... the zig zags of exciting youth settle down to a very regular pattern. Life in a boring job can do that.) I don't trust any glue, so wanted to sew them into the grooves of corrugated card and use that as the backing. The nib slot was too narrow for a needle so I threaded them all by hand, using fine copper wire to sew with. It took all week, sitting in the art room at Central Hawkes Bay College in Waipukerau. Artist-in-residence at a delightful college, steadfastly sewing.
The doll's head was just right but needed to be on some sort of stand to be the right height. I tried several things ... everything has connotations as well as a look. And a height. Finally settled on a coin holder from an old cash drawer in my attic. Upside-down ... there wasn't a lot of profit to be made from a clerical job.
And a the final touch, the thing ticks! It doesn't tell the time, just measures its passing. Scary? I put a small clock inside the coin holder, with a slot underneath for replacing the battery. Just so there's a quiet tick reminding you that time passes, whatever way you choose to spend your life, it passes.
On the outsides of the box there are some old pages from account books. Pounds, shillings and pence, written in ink. From a standard Post Office Pen?

Dale's studio can be found on Surf Highway, Taranaki, New Zealand

More of her work can be seen on the Virtual TART site at

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All images © Dale Copeland