Category Archives: automata

Cardboard Gears Go

It worked in theory and it seems to work in practice too.

Work continues on the Super Simple Clock.

I had been pondering the best way insert bushings into cardboard for days when it came to me while I was putting on my daughter’s shoes — grommets! A little sanding with 220 grit on the 1/4″ dowel and it runs quite nicely. I’d didn’t have any 1/8″ dowel on hand but to my delight, I found that bamboo skewers are a remarkably consistent 0.005″ less than 1/8″.

The double thickness of Cheerios box may be a bit of challenge to cut for 10-year-olds, but with sharp scissors and some determination I really think they can do it. They’re too young for carpal tunnel syndrome right?

Toys from Lindsborg: Lester Raymer

I’ve written a bit about Lester Raymer before. Though his bread and butter was painting, he also had a tradition of making a toy — usually animated — for his wife Ramona every Christmas.

Lester Raymer, Roster on Cart with Wheels. 1980.
from Lester Raymer: A Collection of Essays. Published by Red Barn Studio and The Raymer Society, 1998.

Mechanical peacock saves the day

The cosmos speaks incessantly to the inquisitive mind.

This week, through my brief inquiry into the Cordel literature traditions of Brazil, I encountered a startling gem of inspiration for the automata artist. As it happens, the indisputably most popular folheto ever published is O Pavao Misterioso or The Mysterious Peacock and the story goes like this:

A young man named Evangelista falls in love with the jealously-guarded and radiantly beautiful daughter of a Greek nobleman. In order to visit his love he acquires an aluminum-framed mechanical flying peacock from the great artist-engineer Edmundo. In due course the maiden and Evangelista escape her father and elope on the back of the peacock. Shortly after setting up house in Turkey they are reconciled with the bride’s mother (the father having died of extreme vexation) and receive her full inheritance.

Happy endings thanks to a wondrous automaton. My kind of story. Shades of Hugo anyone?

In her splendid book, Stories on a String, Candice Slater reports that this tale is so intoxicating to some readers of Cordel that they believe the mechanical peacock actually existed and continues to exist today. It is as though this fictional automata is a saint!

Slater’s book is available on Google books. And here is a link to a Google translation of The Romance of the Mysterious Peacock by José Camelo de Melo Rezende from Wikisource.

Keith Newstead’s Pegasus

Part of what drives the visual artist is the desire to view a very specific object or image. The trouble is, the art you want to see doesn’t exist so you have to go to the trouble of making it yourself.

Only rarely do I see an object that I wish I could have had the pleasure of making — the viewing is not enough. Kieth Newstead’s Pegasus is one such object.

(via Make and The Automata / Automaton Blog)

Keith Newstead, Pegasus, 2010.

“Bras en L’Air” French Clock

Bras en l'air clock. French. c. 1890.

I’m not really much for clocks but I am a sucker for alternate formats of time keeping. Here is a gorgeous timepiece of the bras en l’air (arms in the air) type listed for sale on eBay by Musical Treasures of Miami. The reserve is only $27,500.

From the perspective of an automata maker who must incorporate a timepiece into a design as some kind of nod to utility, this alternate hand placement opens up a host of compositional options not available to the traditional round, twelve-numbered face.

I’d love to get a peek at that mechanism. More research is needed and The Hour Lounge appears to be a good place to start.

Here is the full text:

This is an exceptionally rare and beautiful French clock, c.1890. Stands about 19″ high.

The gilded robed goddess standing atop the marble base has her arms outstretched. The hand of her right arm points to the hour, and the left hand points to the minutes, which are delineated in 5-minute increments. The gilding contrasts most beautifully with the blue enameled backdrop behind the goddess.

The platform escapement movement works perfectly, translating the clockworks through a clever linkage to the two arms, which when they reach their uppermost point fall dramatically to the lower starting position.

Every detail of this clock is in stunning condition, from the marble base with gilt trim, the goddess, time numerals, etc., are all flawless and without a scratch or mark.

This clock comes from the private collection of noted antique collector and authority Edgar G. Miller, who also published many books about antiques.

(as posted at The Automata / Automaton Blog)

Another great British clock

Wells Cathedral clock. Yes, I should like to see it one day.

Wishing fish clock

Another forgotten influence.

In 1995 I spent the spring semester studying at Cheltenham and Gloucester College in Cheltenham, England. In the city’s equivalent of an American mall there resides the Wishing Fish clock. I often stopped to wait for its “chime” on my way to the teashop or to ogle chess sets at the game shop.

This clock was not then nor is it now in keeping with my general tastes and still seems to be a bit out of proportion to me. Nonetheless, the sense of wonder and possibility that it engenders in children and perhaps a few adults remains an inspiration.

According to Wikipedia, the vertical distance from the duck to the fish is 14 metres. It weighs 3 tons.