How I turned a mannequin into a curiosity shelf

November 5 | Guest post by Fritz is Fine

IMG_4202Some things are harder to get rid of than others. Expired milk? Duh. Toss it. That white t-shirt with the nacho cheese stain on the boob? Get it out of here. A scrap piece of leather? Wait wait, let me see what I can make out of it. This busted up mannequin? OVER MY DEAD BODY.

This bronze dude was donated to me years ago by friends opening a retail store, who found a dozen or so vintage mannequins in the attic space. It was quite an exciting acquisition for me, and he has been a valued part of my collection. He's been costumed up for Halloween and Christmas, and dressed like a princess by young visitors. He's also provided attention as a prop for non-profit fundraisers.

But after a few moves, (being crushed by a truck door and shoved into cars,) his shoulder was blown out and he'd lost a bit of thigh. He wasn't as handsome as he used to be, but I was reluctant to toss him, or leave him out on the street bearing a FREE sign. I've watched as he deteriorated, but didn't know what function this guy could have, other than being odd and, well, just taking up space.

The body was hollow and appeared to be made out of, basically, paper mache. But he's heavy, and stable, and I figured it was worth a shot to cut him open and see what I could do. In a last ditch effort to revive him for one more life, I decided to cut off his imperfections and make him into a shelf. Of course.

First, I assessed where to make the front opening. Using a hand-held jigsaw, I cut out his chest to create a cavity large enough to easily get shelves inside. I cut just past the blemish to his shoulder and leveled his legs above the damage. I then sanded down all the cut edges.

Math isn't my strong suit, so didn't even try to calculate shelves that filled a whole cross section of his body. Instead, I worked with what I had, along with an it-doesn't-have-to-be-perfect-just-really-really-close mentality.

I inserted scrap pieces of 4x4s (about the height of his "inseam") into the leg cavities. This created stability for the bottom shelf. I covered the scrap with 1x4s, beveling the corners until everything roughly fit the area and was level.

For the top shelf, again, I gauged how long it would need to be, cut the wood and beveled the corners so it would connect — if even just a little bit — to the sides. I glued two small scrap blocks of wood to the inside of the mannequin. The shelf is secured by these blocks.

When it came to paint, I went with a basic enamel black gloss. I debated color, but figured the palate was already eccentric enough in my apartment.

The first few coats of paint made me nervous. I didn't prime because I was so excited to have him painted, and the original bronze layer created a cracking effect on the body. It was cool looking, but it was a little too Liberace for me. The second coat muted it, and now the cracking is gone.

This project took more time (four hours) than it did money (free, since I had everything on hand.) This guy hasn't looked this hunky in years. Man, am I glad I didn't put him out on the curb.

I really want to end this post with a pun, but man-I-can't do it.

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  1. This made my morning! What a great idea and execution. Can't buy that in a catalogue!

    4 agree
  2. I am totally in love with your cabinet for curiosities being a curiosity itself.

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  3. This is such a fabulous idea, and the execution looks great! Now I'm wondering what other objects could be repurposed like this . . .

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  4. Totally agree with Dootsie. And I've always wanted a mannequin for my home decor (I thought it would be fun to maybe make a full body tattoo on it) to do art projects on and also to scare the doody out of potential burglars ­čÖé

    1 agrees
  5. Oh and any chance we might see the rest of your apartment and art? I suspect the rest of the place is cool too!

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  6. Hey, ya'll!! Thanks for the compliments on this project. It was fun to do — so glad I finally got out the hack saw and went for it! This guy joins an army of oddities (and other mannequins) in my home. Follow me at my blog for more weird (like my recent taxidermy class) or I'll try to pitch more to OBH!

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