‘Crazy’ arts and crafts project takes flight

Dunedin sculptor Maleah Abbott-Newland (left) has created a life-size Haast eagle in her flat,...
Dunedin sculptor Maleah Abbott-Newland (left) has created a life-size Haast eagle in her flat, with help from flatmates Phoebe Mussa (centre) and Sylvie Robbins, all 20. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
When Maleah Abbott-Newland asked her student friends if they wanted to help her build a life-sized Haast eagle out of paper mache, most of them said: "flock that" — or something that sounded similar.

The University of Otago gender studies student decided to take on the "crazy" project after watching a documentary about extinct and prehistoric birds.

"I just enjoy doing arts and crafts, and I guess this is one of my craziest so far.

"I’ve done a few other paper mache projects ... and I’ve always had a fascination with the Haast eagle — mainly because of its size."

They had wingspans of up to 3m and weighed up to 15kg.

"I told my flatmates: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I built a life-size Haast eagle in our lounge’.

"They thought I was joking."

Miss Abbott-Newland said she started the project in earnest in December last year, and worked on it during the university holidays, in between her part-time job in Dunedin.

"It was a good boredom buster because all my flatmates went home over the holidays. It was a good project to have.

"It’s made out of chicken wire, cardboard and a lot of Otago Daily Times newspapers — I’ve lost count of how many papers were used."

She said the greatest part of her creation was that it contained an historic record of things that happened during her time as a student in Dunedin.

"It’s got headlines from the paper; one of my flatmates put doodlings and sketches in the margins of the paper; some of the crosswords have been done; other flatmates have written messages on the paper; and they’re all somewhere in the mix."

Once the giant bird started to take shape, some of her friends decided to pitch in by helping paint feathers on the sculpture while having a few drinks.

"My civilised arts and crafts drinks nights got quite a lot of work done on it."

Now that it was finished, she said her friends were quite impressed with it, and the plan was to hang it from their lounge roof.

And when she finishes her time at the University of Otago and moves away for employment, she plans to give it to a local primary school for pupils to enjoy.

Just a warning for Miss Abbott-Newland’s future flatmates — she is considering a giant moa for her next project.