Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Poetical Modesty, In Progress - Stage 5 - Completion.

Welcome back. Sorry this took so long - I've just been up in Queensland opening my exhibition. More on that next week. Now to the matter at hand:

My attention now turns back to the turnbuckle that will suspend the glass plate. After hours of drilling and threading it and making two tiny set screws, they prove too weak for the task. I drill the holes out larger (a scary task as there isn't much room left in the width of the metal) and tap threads into them.

Brass wire becomes a more substantial set-screw.

The turnbuckle ready to go. One of the revelations, somewhere along the line, was that this machine can be fitted in the future with several glass plates, so it truly becomes a viewing machine, like the stereoscopes and zoetropes of the 19th century. When the piece comes back to me after its showing in Queensland, I'll set about doing just that. But before I get too ahead of myself, I'd better make sure the thing works!

An issue here - chain doesn't like being squeezed between other metal parts. Not a good solution. That night in a half-awake state in bed I realize that waxed linen thread would be strong, supple, squeezable - and replaceable.

Re-drilling the holes on four fresh-water pearls to allow for the heavy linen thread.

The assembly together.

At this point I need to address one of the things I've enjoyed about this machine, and this is the fact that there are no right angles in the entire structure... The glass plate itself and the brass frame that encloses the image are both way off square. The candelabra base, being most probably a souvenir made to be sold on the roadside means that the upright part of the base is tilted at an extreme angle.

I hit upon the idea of making threaded feet that lift the flat base off the table and allow for adjustments to make the whole piece 'feel' balanced visually.

Unfortunately, this means drilling major holes in the base. At this late stage of the piece, this is a palm-sweaty affair.

Tapping the holes.

Threading the brass rod to make the feet...

...and slotting them.

Now that it stands more or less upright, I can try the machine out. After ten weeks of problem-solving a structure that was only theoretically a working device, it's a real delight to see and hear the elements working with each other.

In trying to make this machine as independent from me as possible, I decide to make a small screwdriver that would be attached to the machine to allow anyone to make all these various adjustments. I realize now that this is the last step to completing the piece.

A bar of square nickel silver wire and an old clock key fit the bill.

Forging the blade.

It'll need to fit in the square hole of the key.

A few taps with a rawhide mallet gently seats the nickel into the key.

A quick decision places the screwdriver front and center on the base.

Adding a slot to the hole to accept the blade.

The screwdriver chained and in place.

The last several days are devoted to making the descent and ascent of the plate as smooth and reliable as possible. There is an unknown hang-up that causes me to disassemble and reassemble the structure at least half a dozen times until I find the culprit. How funny that the thing that stopped the works for these last few days was the thing I spend so much time and effort circumventing:


Back when I tried to lock the chain into the turnbuckle, before I thought of linen thread, I was desperate to try the mechanism but the chain was slipping through the set-screws - so I added a drop of superglue to one side of the chain so I could try it. I promptly forgot about it when I changed it to waxed linen, but there was a tiny spot on the chain where there were four links glued stiff. This tiny rigid spot hung up in the little curved tubing channel in the top of the structure. If I'd only known earlier it would have saved me days of difficulty.

No wonder students have dubbed me Keith No-Glue.

Thanks for sticking with this long process. I hope you had a taste of the enjoyment I felt making it. You can view images of the finished piece on my website here:


At the end of the pictures, you can watch a video (available in HD for those who'd like that) of it in motion. For those with less patience, you can go straight to the video here:


And lastly, for those interested the piece is indeed for sale and info can be found here.




  1. Wow looks cool man, keep it up. Now where's the babes...!!! Oh at your house you lucky git....!!

  2. Congrats to the finished piece! What an amazing, beautiful piece of art it is. And I love the sounds it makes :)

  3. this is wonderful, great work Keith. thanks so much for sharing.

  4. I have no words. Just gasps of delight. You and the piece are both treasures. LOVE the movie, and thanks for crediting the music, which is gorgeous and a perfect choice. Also, I LOVE the sound of the pulleys which adds another sense to the experience - as if the rest of it wasn't enough.

    Mmmm... guess I DO have words after all :).
    Thanks, thanks and thanks.

  5. Amaaaazing! Thank you Keith for sharing your incredible journey and a most wonderful finished piece with us. You have outdone yourself (but perhaps not). Like others, love that you can see and hear the movement. Not just beautiful art (it is), the piece is "doing" something. What a treasure. Thanks and congratulations.
    Jan (San Diego)

  6. Keith - Loved following along with the creation of this amazing machine. And thanks for putting yourself in the video - I didn't have a sense of the piece's scale (it seems larger in photos, to me anyway) until I saw you working it.

    Also, there are some cool handmade automatons in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (City of Lost Children, Delicatessen) latest movie 'Mic Macs'. Check it out if it comes down to Koalaville.

  7. Keith, the process has been an amazing journey to witness. Loved it. The piece is just amazing, what else can I say! Your mind is amazing. Take care, Riki

  8. Hey Buddy,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to show us so much of your process, workflow, and problem-solving super human action. ;) This is absolutely FASCINATING!

  9. Such an amazing piece and process! Fantastic!

  10. Totally amazing No glue Lobue.