An artist’s meticulously crafted armour for cats and mice captivates, conjuring a fantasy world where these eternal nemeses do battle
By: Rose Frosek
Featured Photos: Jeff de Boer
Canadian artist Jeff de Boer creates meticulous, Game of Thrones-worthy armour—but for cats and mice. Working mostly in nickel, steel, and/or brass, he recreates the armour of different historical eras, crafting the suits of ancient samurai and Renaissance knights. The spellbinding craftsmanship invokes an epic, age-old cat-and-mouse battle.
De Boer has been honing his craft for 36 years, first making a tiny suit of mouse armour as a side project to jewelry making. His lifelong passion for armour was sparked as a five-year-old visiting Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. Studying jewelry making in the 1980s, he found a way to marry his passion for armour with the small scale of the work he was creating by asking himself: what sort of armour would be tiny but still feel like it had real purpose? “And then it dawned on me: I could make a suit of armour for a mouse,” de Boer told National Geographic. “That was the transitional moment—as Disney said, ‘It all started with a mouse’.”
With the world’s first suit of armour for a mouse forged, the need for an antagonist obviously presented itself, and de Boer began crafting armour for cats as well. Since then, he estimates he has created more than 500 suits of armour for cats and mice in his Calgary studio, ranging from Islamic-inspired chainmail for a cat to Crusader armour complete with a mouse-sized helmet.
All feature museum-quality, painstaking detail. “I am a maker of things: things that are authentic, things that leave people with positive memories and the feeling that beauty and magic still have a place in our world,” says de Boer.
One tiny medieval armour for a mouse takes from 30 to 50 hours to make—and that’s on top of the 40 hours it takes to create the tiny tools necessary to fashion the armour. Cat armour takes anywhere from 50 to 200 hours.
Commissioned cat armour requests are usually made to memorialize a beloved pet and generally come from people with a deep interest in history and art—like de Boer himself. “These are like reliquaries in a way, as I build in details that reflect the cat’s personality,” says de Boer. He stresses his armour is not for living creatures to wear. He tried dressing a trained “stunt cat” supposedly accustomed to wearing clothes on camera just once for a Japanese game show in the early 1990s, and learned his lesson: “Highly not recommended,” he reports.
But as an artwork to marvel over? The armour is undeniably incredible, capturing the imagination and conjuring an ancient battle between the species.