Saturday, February 20, 2010

Automata exhibit at the Miami Science Museum

Automata exhibit at the Miami Science Museum
Head on over to the Cabaret Mechanical blog to get all the details on an exhibit of automata now showing at the Miami Science Museum through to September. The exhibit features automata from Cabaret Mechanical Theatre and from the collection of Dr. Andrew R. Hirschl.

Here's the news of the Miami, Florida automata exhibit at the Cabaret Blog. Here's is info about the show from the Miami Science Museum.

[ Thanks Ellen! ]


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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Maillardet's automaton at Franklin Institute

Maillardet's automaton at the Franklin Institute
I had the chance to visit Philadelphia recently, location of The Franklin Institute whose stated mission is "to inspire an understanding of and passion for science and technology learning." For this visitor, they did just that.

The Institute has several traveling exhibits and at least ten continuing exhibits that fulfill their mission admirably. I was there to see one thing in particular. You see, the Franklin Institute is home to one of the world's great mechanical treasures: The Maillardet Automaton.

The automaton is the centerpiece of the Institute's Amazing Machines exhibit -- and with good reason. Created somewhere between 1800 an 1810, the Automaton has the largest "memory" of any such machine ever created. It is capable of drawing four sketches and writing three poems (two in French and one in English).

To see what I mean, check out this video of the automaton in action.
I was fortunate enough to have been able to see the automaton in operation the day I visited -- a rare event, since it is not demonstrated on a regular basis.

I was greeted by several friendly and helpful museum officials. Most of my time was spent with Charles Penniman -- a long-time researcher, caretaker, and operator of the automaton. Mr. Penniman demonstrated how the machine's two spring-driven motors are wound, the writing instrument calibrated, and the machine set into motion. He answered my questions and pointed out various details of the machine and its sophisticated sequences of action.

Seeing the brass skeletonized figure of a boy spring to life, deftly guiding a writing instrument over a blank sheet of paper to create an intricate sketch or a beautifully penned poem filled me with awe. As someone who appreciates mechanical things, there was no doubt that I was in the presence of greatness.

Below is one of the drawings the automaton creates -- a landscape depicting a Chinese palace.
Drawing by Maillardet's Automaton
To my mind, Maillardet's Automaton has to be one of the most impressive unions of mechanical engineering and artistry that has ever been created.

Beyond its antiquity and complexity, the automaton has a fascinating history. At one point, the automaton verified its own origin when, restored to working order, it signed one of its poems in French with the statement "Written by Maillardet's Automaton" (below).
Maillardet's automaton - signed poem
More recently, this automaton was inspiration for Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which features an automaton very much like Maillardet's.

Here is a longer video shot in November of 2007, when Brian Selznick visited The Franklin Institute for a signing of his book. Andrew Baron, master mechanician, is man operating the machine in this video.
My sincere thanks goes out to The Franklin Institute and the many people who contributed to the demonstration I was fortunate enough to witness.

While you may not be so lucky as to see the automaton in operation, it is on permanent display and features a great exhibit complete with a wonderful, informative video (not shown here). I am certain that the Amazing Machines exhibit will appeal to readers of The Automata / Automaton Blog, as will the museum as a whole. If you will be anywhere near Philadelphia, I urge you to plan a trip to The Franklin Institute.

You can learn more about Maillardet's writing and drawing automaton at The Franklin Institute's page on Maillardet's Automaton and another page they have with information about the automaton.


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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Strong National Museum of Play - mechanical toys

Strong National Museum of Play - mechanical toys
Click your way over to the Strong National Museum of Play web site for three pages worth of mechanical toy images including banks (like the cast iron magician shown here), wind-up toys, clocks, and automata. The rest of the site is worth checking out too. If you happen to be in the Rochester, New York area...well, lucky you!

Here's the link to the Strong National Museum of Play's mechanical toys section.


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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Musical Machines & Living Dolls exhibit

Musical Machines & Living Dolls exhibit
The Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, is home to a large and impressive collection of automata and mechanical music machines. There is a nice review of the exhibit over at the Curious Expeditions blog.

From the blog post about the museum:

The museum does a nice job displaying these fragile, if eerie, machines. Short films show the more delicate automatons in action and a daily demonstration displays some of the less delicate pieces. Beautiful and strange automatons line the walls behind glass cases, in sumptuous dress, with bright faces. Those that do not fit in the gallery are on display in the basement, a storeroom of lonely un-wound figures behind two panes of glass for curious visitors to peer at.

Read the complete review and check out this flickr set of photos from the Morris Museum.


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Friday, September 04, 2009

Tippoo's Tiger - automaton and organ

Tippoo's Tiger is famous life-size carved wooden tiger shown attacking a man. The automaton makes sounds for the tiger and the man and also has a basic playable organ built in. A one-of-a-kind piece with a remarkable history.

From the Victoria and Albert web site:
Concealed in the bodywork is a mechanical pipe-organ with several parts, all operated simultaneously by a crank-handle emerging from the tiger's shoulder. Inside the tiger and the man are weighted bellows with pipes attached. Turning the handle pumps the bellows and controls the air-flow to simulate the growls of the tiger and cries of the victim. The cries are varied by the approach of the hand towards the mouth and away, as the left arm - the only moving part - is raised and lowered.

Another pair of bellows, linked to the same handle, supplies wind for a miniature organ of 18 pipes built into the tiger, with stops under the tail. Its structure is like that of European mechanical organs, but adapted for hand operation by a set of ivory button keys reached through a flap in the animal's side. The mechanism has been repaired several times and altered from its original state. It is now too fragile to be operated regularly.

Here is a link to more on the history of Tippoo's Tiger.

Here is a link to a 26 minute video on Tippoo and a bit about the Tiger.

[ Thanks Falk! ]


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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Museum Residency: Automata Maker at V&A

Tippu's Tiger.jpg
The the Victoria and Albert Museum is currently accepting applicants for an automata residency. This is a great opportunity for UK-based automata artists. Shown above is the famous piece known as Tippu's Tiger from their collection.

Museum Residency:
Automata Maker Bursary offered and studio space provided The V&A and the Crafts Council are collaborating on a series of three six month residencies in the Sackler Centre for arts education at the V&A. This third Craft Residency presents a new opportunity for mid-career practitioners to have a studio at the V&A for six months commencing in July 2010. Proposals are invited from UK based artists and makers working with, or wishing to work in Automata, who want to develop their practice through working with the V&A collections and engage in public participatory programmes in working with the V&A and Crafts Council.

For more details and to apply online, visit the V&A's website. The closing date for applications is 3 November 2009.


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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset, Maine

Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset, Maine
The Musical Wonder House, located in Wiscasset, Maine, is a unique museum featuring more than 5000 restored musical boxes, player grand pianos and organs, spring-wound phonographs, musical birds, porcelains, furniture, clocks, steins, whistlers, a musical painting, and 23 antique coin-operated machines.

The collection is housed in a 32-room mansion dating to 1852. They have an impressive gift shop and -- for the serious collector -- they offer a selection of restored antique musical boxes for sale.

Here is a link to the website of the Musical Wonder House and here is were you can take a virtual tour of the Musical Wonder House.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mechanical Music Museum in Finland

Mechanical Music Museum in FinlandMekaanisen Musiikin Museo (The Mechanical Music Museum) is located in the Finnish lake district.

It is the largest museum of its kind in Scandinavia featuring mechanically produced music from instruments dating from the 1850s to the present. They offer a 70-minute guided tour in which visitors see and hear most of the museum's 290 instruments. The instruments are displayed in eight large rooms, each decorated in a style corresponding to the machines they hold.

If you are going to be in Finland, I would say that Mekaanisen Musiikin Museo would be worth a visit.

[ Thanks Kristiina! ]


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Friday, September 19, 2008

Let's Put Boyer's Automata on the Map in Kansas!

The Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings is a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art title because of more than 65 motion displays including hand-carved figurines made by Kansas artist Paul Boyer.

The Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings in Belleville, KS is owned and operated by Paul Boyer's daughters, Ann and Candy. Some days Paul is in the museum tuning up his displays. Paul's wish for the future is to keep his collection together where people can see it and enjoy it. Let's help them out by voting for them!

You do not need to be from Kansas to vote. You can vote 3 times using the same e-mail address. You will need to vote for 7 other nominees in addition to your vote for the Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings. Voting ends October 15, 2008.

Vote for The Boyer Museum of Animated Carvings to be one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art.


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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Clark Collection at Boston's Museum of Science

Clark Mechanical Movement ModelsClark Collection of Mechanical Movement Models is a set of working models designed by American engineer William M. Clark in the early 1900s.

Originally numbering over 200, these models were displayed as the Mechanical Wonderland in New York in 1928 and at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago in 1933. Today, 120 of these mechanical models remain in working order and on display at the Museum in Boston.

Based in large measure on designs laid out in Henry T. Brown's 507 Mechanical Movements (1871), the Clark models include gear mechanisms, pulley systems, cutaways, and cross sections of a variety of machines. They illustrate methods of converting rotary to rectilinear motion and rectilinear to oscillating motion, as well as solutions to a variety of mechanical tasks. The models continue to be of interest to a range of Museum visitors, from young children to mechanical designers and tinkerers

Cornell University Library and Boston's Museum of Science are collaborating to integrate the entire Clark Collection into the Kinetic Models for Design Digital Library (KMODDL). For now a good sampling is available here.

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