The rivalry between cats and mice is as old as time. Can you picture seeing historical artifacts related to their feud, just like you would in a museum? A Canadian artist's work gets pretty close to that. Jeff de Boer creates exquisitely detailed metal armor for cats and mice inspired by ancient cultures and historical periods. From samurai felines to Viking rodents, what started as a tiny student project led him to become one of the few—if not the only—animal armorer out there.
De Boer traces his love of armor back to over 40 years ago when he was in high school. “I have had a lifetime fascination with history, archeology, museums, and of course armor,” he tells My Modern Met. “When I was a second-year jewelry student at what is now called AUArts in 1986 I realized that I could make a very small suit of armor. The idea of making a human miniature did not seem right to me but making a life-size suit for something like a mouse did!”
That's why, contrary to many artists, his inspiration doesn't come from galleries or the work of fellow creators. “My inspiration comes more from the world of museums and artifacts,” de Boer explains. “I think of my work as modern museum-quality artifacts that one day will be at home in either an art gallery or a museum. I hope one day my work will inspire others to want to become artist makers in the same way the work of past artisans inspired me.”
His love for the blacksmith craft, as well as history, permeates every piece. “Researching historical armor from every culture and time is fascinating for me,” the artist says. “Sometimes I get inspired by a style and just start working on it and then offer it to the public. Other times a client will make a special request. For example, the Maratha Hussar mouse is a fusion of the styles of both the Maratha Empire from India and the Polish Winged Hussars. This design was for a couple; one from India and the other from Poland. Some of the best ideas are a collaboration between myself and a patron.”
On average, the research, design, and tooling process for new work can take up to 50 hours before he even picks up a hammer. “After that, the making of a mouse on average is 30–50 hours,” de Boer states. “Something like a cat can take up to 400 hours. For sure the more elaborate and decorated cats take the longest.”
Lately, the artist has been working mostly with nickel for the steely look trimmed with brass. “I like this metal combination because it’s very stable, easy to take care of, and will last for thousands of years. I like steel and copper as well and occasion silver and gold,” he says.
The intricacies of his work make the viewer daydream with future generations coming across his pieces and picturing an epic battle between two of nature's—and pop culture's— greatest enemies.